A Vietnamese sailor was transferred to the rescue boat coded SAR 412 on Monday. Photo: Nguyen Tu
Vietnamese rescuers on mission to save a fisherman near Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands were threatened by Chinese vessels and asked to change their course Monday, the Vietnam Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) said.
Last Friday afternoon, a Vietnamese fishing boat with 45 crew members was traveling some 410 nautical miles off the central city of sDa Nang when a sailor named Ngoc suffered chest pains.
As his condition worsened on Sunday, the recue boat coded SAR 412, belonging to MRCC Da Nang, received the distress call and headed to Hoang Sa, the Vietnamese term for the Paracel island chain in the East Sea (aka South China Sea).
Around 30 minutes after midnight, when the rescue boat was around eight nautical miles from Triton Island in Hoang Sa, a Chinese vessel appeared.
The Chinese vessel called the Vietnamese rescue boat via telecom devices and demanded that it changed its direction, claiming that the boat was in "Chinese territorial waters."
Phan Xuan Son, the captain of the rescue boat, replied that the boat was on duty and kept on going.
The Chinese ship repeated its request and followed the boat for around 30 minutes, until the boat got out of Triton Island.
The rescue boat managed to bring the sick sailor into the boat and continued its journey back to shore.
At around 10:30 a.m. on Monday, another Chinese ship appeared, to the rescue boat at very high speed.
When the ship was around 80 meters from the boat, it slowed down, changed its direction and moved in parallel with the boat.
According to Captain Son, the Chinese ship moved very close to the Vietnamese rescue boat and sometimes sped up, which he interpreted as a gesture of threatening.
He said the rescue boat encountered several Chinese ships previously.
In the latest case in February, when it was traveling to a reef in Hoang Sa to rescue six Vietnamese fishermen on a sinking boat, it was surrounded by a number of Chinese marine surveillance ships and aircraft.
In 1974, taking advantage of the withdrawal of the American troops from the Vietnam War, China invaded the Paracel Islands. A brief but bloody naval battle with the forces of the then US-backed Republic of Vietnam ensued.
Vietnam's behemoth northern neighbor has illegally occupied the islands ever since. But a post-1975 united Vietnam has never relinquished its ownership of the Paracel Islands and continues to keep military bases and other facilities on the Spratly Islands.