Vietnam seizes Chinese vessel in South China Sea

Captain and two sailors detained amid escalation in territorial dispute between Hanoi and Beijing

Vietnam has seized a Chinese ship and detained its captain and two sailors, accusing the crew of illegally intruding on its waters, state media said on Monday.

China has overlapping claims with Vietnam and other south-east Asian countries to waters in the South China Sea, thought to have vast oil and gas reserves and which is a route for roughly £3.17tn ($4.5tn) in trade. The area is also rich in fish.

The seizure, which state-run Thanh Nien News said occurred on Saturday, is a rare move from Vietnam against its powerful northern neighbour and could increase hostility between Beijing and Hanoi.

Vietnamese fishermen have accused Chinese authorities in the past of harassing and attacking them while at sea. In May last year, Chinese and Vietnamese ships collided as Beijing tried to set up an oil rig in the South China Sea. Vietnam released footage of a Chinese ship ramming and sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat.

In February, China deployed surface-to-air missile launchers on Woody Island, part of the Parcels chain that is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, angering both countries.

Thanh Nien News reported that the Vietnam coastguard seized the vessel, which it said carried more than 100,000 litres of diesel oil. It said the crew “admitted that they had entered deep [into] Vietnamese waters to refuel several other Chinese boats which were fishing illegally there”.

China also has overlapping claims with Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Japan to other islands in the region. It has stepped up a programme in which dredged sand is used to reclaim small islands or coral reefs to make military bases in the disputed waters.

The move has frustrated the US and become a key point during the 2016 presidential campaign. Washington has promised to fly and sail through the area to oppose China’s military expansion.

Marine biologists have warned that the dredging has also led to the rapid destruction of some of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs.


Oliver Holmes in Bangkok

The GuardianTramp

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