HANOI, June 9 (Reuters) - Vietnam accused China again on Thursday of harassing a ship conducting seismic surveys in the South China Sea, the second such incident in two weeks to increase tensions between the neighbouring countries with competing maritime claims.
A Chinese fishing boat deployed a “cable cutting device” and got it trapped in a network of underwater cables in use by a ship hired by Vietnam, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said. The ship was operating over Vietnam’s continental shelf and within its exclusive economic zone off the southern coast, she said.
Two Chinese ships then came to help the Chinese fishing vessel, she said, calling the incident part of a campaign of systematic and intentional violations by China.
Vietnam lodged a complaint with China in late May when a Chinese patrol vessel slashed the cables of a Vietnamese ship conducting a seismic survey off its south-central coast.
Nga said Thursday’s episode amounted to a “serious violation” of Vietnam’s sovereignty that kept tensions in the region high. Vietnamese foreign ministry officials have met representatives of the Chinese embassy to express their opposition to the incident.
The two countries, which fought a brief war on their land border in 1979, have since exchanged accusations and re-staked long-standing claims of sovereignty over maritime territory in the South China Sea which covers important shipping routes and may hold large oil and gas reserves. [ID:nSGE6950BX]
On Sunday, up to 300 people gathered in Hanoi and several thousand marched in Ho Chi Minh City in a rare public protest against China’s assertiveness over its maritime claims.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim territories in the South China Sea, but China’s claim is by far the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea’s 648,000 sq miles (1.7 million sq km). [ID:nL3E7H5050]
Nga said the ship involved in the incident on Thursday was the ‘Viking 2,’ a vessel that state-run newspaper Tuoi Tre identified last week as being Norway-registered and chartered by state oil and gas group Petrovietnam.
In April French company CGG Veritas and Petrovietnam’s Petroleum Technical Services Corporation set up a joint venture to conduct seismic surveys, Tuoi Tre said. (Reporting by Nguyen Huy Kham, Nguyen Van Vinh and Do Khuong Duy; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)