(Adds Vietnam Foreign Ministry comment) (.)
HANOI, May 27 (Reuters) - Three Chinese patrol boats challenged a Vietnamese ship exploring for oil in the South China Sea, damaging equipment and warning the ship that it was violating Chinese territory, Vietnam said on Friday.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry protested against the incident by passing a diplomatic note to representatives of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi on Thursday, the ministry said in a statement.
The Chinese side must “refrain from repeating actions that violate Vietnam’s sovereignty over its continental shelf and special economic zone, and also pay damages to the Vietnamese side”, it said without elaborating.
China’s Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.
The South China Sea covers an area of more than 648,000 sq miles (1.7 million sq km), containing more than 200 mostly uninhabitable small islands, rocks and reefs.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territories in the sea, which covers an important shipping route and is thought to hold untapped oil and gas reserves. [ID:nSGE6950BX]
The Vietnamese ship, the Binh Minh 02, detected the Chinese patrol boats approaching on radar at about 5 a.m. on Thursday(2200 GMT on Wednesday), the official Vietnam News Agency reported.
About an hour later, the three Chinese boats intentionally ran through the area where the Vietnamese ship was working, snapping cables the ship was using, then left the scene after about three hours.
The incident took place in an area called Block 148 about 120 km (80 miles) off the south-central coast of Vietnam from the beach town of Nha Trang, a map on the news agency’s website showed.
The news agency said the ship fixed the gear and resumed work on Friday. Petrovietnam said it would work closely with the government to protect the ship. (Reporting by Tran Le Thuy and John Ruwitch; Editing by Sugita Katyal)