Vietnam hikes fines for illegal oil and gas activities

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Vietnamese fishing boats near Da Tay Island, part of Vietnam's Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago. PHOTO: REUTERS

Vietnam has increased the fines for foreign entities illegally exploring or drilling for oil or gas in its waters by several times.

An amended decree on the penalties for oil and gas industry violations, which Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved August 27, stipulates that individuals who infringe on Vietnam's seas, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, or continental shelf will be fined up to VND1 billion (US$47,338).

Organizations will be slapped fines of up to VND2 billion.

Currently the fines for such violations, in place since 2006, are VND300-500 million for both foreign individuals and organizations.

Apart from the fines, violators may also be expelled from Vietnam.

The decree will take effect October 10.

Last year, Vietnam vehemently stated its opposition to the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation's (CNOOC) invitation to international firms to bid on nine oil and gas blocks situated within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in the East Sea, known internationally as the South China Sea.

Vietnam demanded that CNOOC cancel the invitation in June and that foreign firms not take part in the bidding.

China, however, insisted that the invitation adheres to international laws and urged Vietnam not to escalate their well-publicized territorial dispute, according to a Reuters report.

Many experts claimed the CNOOC's invitation for bids was retaliation for Vietnam's passage of its Law on the Sea.

Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which Vietnam and China are both signatories, a country's territorial sea only extends 12 nautical miles from its baseline low-water line along the coast officially recognized by the country and used to measure the breadth of the territorial sea. A 24-nautical-mile limit is applied to countries' contiguous zones.

A country's exclusive economic zone may extend up to 200 nautical miles, while the continental shelf may not go beyond 350 nautical miles from the baseline. A country can exercise its rights to explore and exploit natural resources in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf as stipulated in the UNCLOS.

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