A Chinese boat illegally fishing in Vietnamese waters in a photo taken on board a Vietnamese naval ship.
In the past two weeks, Vietnamese fishermen have reported a rash of violent Chinese intrusions into Vietnamese waters. Some fear the incursions are part of a Chinese plot to take the East Sea by force.
Nguyen Van Ai, 62, said he was recently chased by a group of around 30 Chinese fishing boats escorted by a Chinese naval ship while fishing near the Truong Sa Archipelago .
Ai has been a fisherman for nearly 50 years and his four sons now pilot his fleet of four off-shore fishing boats.
"I've never seen anything like it," he said. "Normally, fishing boats keep a distance from one another while fishing. Now they travel in tight groups accompanied by naval ships. It's clear that they want to intrude into Vietnamese waters and occupy our traditional fishing grounds."
In the past, his family used to avoid rough seas by hugging the Vietnamese island chain that has been illegally occupied by China since 1988.
In the past two months, he said, the Chinese have fired on their boats and chased them out of the area.
"We fishermen will never accept this occupation," he said. "These are Vietnamese waters."
Aggression on the rise
Duong Van Tam -- a fisherman based in Phu Yen Province's Tuy Hoa Town -- said, these days, he sees Chinese fishing boats in Vietnamese waters every time he goes off-shore.
"They are coming into our waters because they're being escorted by civilian coastal patrol boats," he said. "Meanwhile, we're being chased out by those ships even though we're fishing in our own waters."
Tam said that every time they track fish into fertile fishing grounsds, they encounter groups of Chinese fishermen.
"Chinese fishing boats travel in large groups that are literally robbing us of our catches," he said.
In Quang Ngai province, fishermen have complained of a significant jump in brazen Chinese aggression in the past two weeks, according to Nguyen Thanh Nam, who mans an inland communication station for fishing boats.
Nam has heard from a startling number of fishermen who claim that Chinsese patrols have confiscated their equipment inside Vietnamese waters.
According to Nguyen Huu Hao, Deputy Director of the Binh Dinh Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, fish are abundant in the East Sea's southern areas from April to October. For the rest of the year, the fishermen must head north
"Chinese fishing boats are reaching further south, robbing our fishermen of their livlihoods and violating Vietnam's sovereignty over the sea," he said.
Colonel Nguyen Trong Huyen, Chief Commander of the Phu Yen Border Guards said hundreds of Chinese fishing boats have illegally entered Vietnamese waters in a bid to claim fertile fishing grounds and seize control over the East Sea.
He said the number of Chinese boats declined in the past few days, after members of the public and the media condemned their illegal activities.
Nguyen Viet Chau of the Binh Dinh Border Guards said that some Chinese fishing boats have come up to 100 nautical miles off the province's coastline.
"We've chased after them and supported local fishermen in their efforts to maintain control over our waters through their traditional activities," Chau said.