Vietnam marine police to step up East Sea protection for fishermen

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A marine police ship sailing the East Sea

The Vietnam Marine Police Department has said it would beef up protection for Vietnamese fishermen fishing in the nation's territorial waters with frequent patrols of the East Sea including areas off remote islands that it has clear sovereignty over.

It would even accompany Vietnamese fishing boats if needed, the department said, adding these measures were being taken in response to a Chinese ship illegally opening fire on a Vietnamese fishing boat recently.  

"We will stay 24/24 in remote islands and coordinate with other forces to support, or even accompany the fishermen to protect them," a VnExpress report quoted department director, Major General Nguyen Dam, as saying.

Dam said the action of the Chinese ship firing flares at Vietnamese fishing boats on March 20 was a serious violation of international laws as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

Vietnamese marine police will ask Chinese forces to abide by international laws, he said.

On March 20, the fishing boat of Bui Van Phai, who hails from the central province of Quang Ngai, encountered a Chinese vessel at around 10 a.m. when it was winding up its fishing activities for the day in the Hoang Sa (Paracels) Archipelago.

The Chinese ship gave chase for about 30 minutes, firing flares and leaving after the boat's cabin caught fire. The nine fishermen on board managed to put out the flames and prevent a potential explosion, Phai said.

On March 25, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi condemned the firing as "wrongful and inhumane," as the boat was fishing in traditional fishing grounds in Vietnam's Hoang Sa Archipelago.

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Dam, the Vietnamese general, said marine police are increasing their patrols in specific areas in the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea, where Vietnamese fishermen have been fishing for a long time.

"One of our most important tasks is to maintain security and a safe environment for fishermen and ensure marine economic activities," he said.

The department held a conference in Hanoi on March 29 to review a campaign to enforce sea patrols from November 15, 2011 to March 15 this year.

According to a report released at the event, the national marine police chased away more than 350 foreign fishing boats violating Vietnamese waters during that period.

Dam said Vietnam marine police would continue chasing away foreign boats, including Chinese ones, fishing illegally in Vietnamese waters.

"This is our permanent task and we will have to do it better in the future," he said.

"We are determined not to let other countries complicate the situation in the seas under Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction."

China and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei are embroiled in sovereignty disputes over the East Sea.

China's claim is the largest, covering most of the sea's 1.7 million square kilometers.

Though this has been emphatically rejected by the other claimants and independent experts, analysts warn that Beijing is unlikely to back down from its expansive claims in the region, stretching from the eastern Himalayas to the East Sea.

The East Sea is thought to hold vast untapped reserves of oil and natural gas that could potentially place China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other claimant nations alongside the likes of Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Qatar.

The waters hold around 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in proven and probable reserves, Reuters reported, citing the US Energy Information Administration.

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