A Chinese coast guard ship (R) blocks a Vietnamese fishery surveillance ship/ PHOTO: MAI THANH HAI
The Chinese fleet guarding an oil rig illegally positioned in Vietnamese waters grew to 130 vessels early Saturday, as it continued launching attacks on Vietnamese ships.
The fleet added 27 ships in two days, according to the Department of Fisheries Resources under the Ministry of Agriculture – Rural Development which noted that four military ships were among them.
The rig and its defensive armada were illegally deployed into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands on May 1,
Two Chinese aircraft have maintained patrols over Vietnamese law enforcement ships as they continue to attempt to approach the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig and protect local fishing boats.
Two fishing Vietnamese fishing boats were partially damaged in attacks on Friday, the department said.
Several Vietnamese fishery surveillance ships were also rammed and sprayed with water cannons roughly seven nautical miles from the rig that same day. The attacks reportedly rendered one ship's engine and communication systems inoperable.
Vu Duc Tao, chief of Vietnam's fishing surveillance fleet, said they had five ships each weighing 450 tons and equipped for surveillance, while the Chinese vessels weigh at least 2,000 tons each.
A Thanh Nien reporter, who has been on site since May 8, noted that the Chinese ships chased and fired water cannon at Vietnamese fishery surveillance ships three times a day.
A vessel which was dispatched from the Northern Oil Spill Response Center in Hai Phong City to join the Vietnamese fleet was surrounded by 14 Chinese ships and attacked with water cannons as it neared the oil rig on Thursday. A good deal of the ship's communication equipment was severely damaged.
China also reportedly dispatched fishing vessels to chase and provoke Vietnamese ships by throwing ashtrays, stones, and iron objects at their crews.
Nguyen The Hung Dung, mate of fishery surveillance ship KN-767, said the Chinese fishing boats were “dangerous” because their prows were equipped with iron battering rams capable of boring a hole in the side of a boat.
“If they ram our ships, and we can't avoid then, our ships will break and sink,” he said.
A fishing surveillance officer told Thanh Nien that every night, around 8-9pm, Chinese aircrafts fly over Vietnamese ships for hours, flashing different colored light signals on the ships below.
The officer believed they were pinpointing their locations to direct missiles at them from surrounding islands, military ships and aircrafts.
Close up: Chinese ships’ attack on a Vietnamese fishery surveillance ship