A Chinese ship sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat near Vietnam’s Paracel Islands, local authorities said on Friday, endangering the lives of eight crew members.
“This is the first time a Chinese ship has hit and sunk boats in our commune this year,” said Nguyen Van Hai, a local official from the Quang Ngai province, located a few hundred kilometers from the Paracel Islands.
Hai said China’s ships hit and sank the fishing boat on Thursday morning before “capturing and detaining the crew” on a nearby island. Two Vietnamese fishing boats attempted to rescue the eight fishermen, but were also detained on the island, state media said, quoting local sources.
China released the eight fishermen and the two Vietnamese rescue boats on Thursday evening. Local authorities are waiting for the crews to dock back in Vietnam on Sunday, when they will hear a full report on the case before issuing a formal complaint to higher authorities.
Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its territory. It has built artificial islands with military-capable facilities over reefs in the Paracel Island chains in waters that are legally Vietnamese.
Last summer, near the Philippines’ Spratly Islands, a Vietnamese vessel rescued 22 Filipinos left to drown after their fishing ship was attacked and sunk by a Chinese ship in an act deemed “barbaric” by the Philippine Defense Secretary at the time.
This attack occurred near the Spratly Islands, which are the sovereign territory of the Philippines. Like Vietnam’s Paracel Islands, the territory is claimed by China.
The South China Sea boasts rich oil and gas reserves and is located in a pivotal global shipping route, making it an attractive bit of territory to control. China pursues oil and gas exploration in territory belonging to Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
In recent years, China has exerted growing control in the highly contested body of water, claiming zones that pertain to nearby Southeast Asian nations, or that are traditionally considered international territory. Many, including the United States, consider the action part of the country’s efforts to transform itself into a major global power.
Last fall, Vietnam condemned China’s aggression in the South China Sea in an address to the United Nations. In his speech, the Vietnamese foreign minister called on all countries to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which grants states sovereignty over waters up to 12 nautical miles from its shores.