Four Chinese vessels, including two coast guard ships and a warship, bullied and scared away a Vietnamese supply ship off Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago a fortnight ago, the captain of the local boat said.
Tran Van Nga, captain of the supply boat Hai Dang 05, managed by East Vietnam Sea and Islands Maritime Safety Company, under the Ministry of Transport’s Southern Vietnam Maritime Safety Corporation, reported what happened to his ship to the company two weeks ago.
The incident occurred when Hai Dang 05 was on a mission of giving supplies to the staff of the lighthouses in Truong Sa, Captain Nga said.
Nguyen Duy Hiet, director of the company, on Thursday confirmed the report and described the incident as extremely dangerous.
At 9:30 am on November 13, Hai Dang 05 was sailing past Subi Reef at a distance of about 12 nautical miles when a Chinese ship appeared, approaching the local vessel and scaring it away.
Subi Reef belongs to Truong Sa but has been illegally occupied by China.
A while later, two Chinese coast guard ships, coded 35115 and 2305, appeared and sped up toward the Vietnamese ship.
“The ship 35115 rushed to the prow of our boat while the ship 2305 darted toward the stern,” Captain Nga narrated. “We had to try to steer our boat so that it could avoid colliding with either of the Chinese vessels.”
At 11:00 am, a Chinese warship came from Subi Reef and headed for Hai Dang 05, at a speed of 16-18 nautical miles, to support the two coast guard boats to bully the Vietnamese ship, Captain Nga said.
Nga asserted that the warship then used equipment to disrupt radar waves, so the local ship failed to measure distances between itself and other vessels around it.
The warship then repeatedly let off flares toward Hai Dang 05 as a sign of threat and broadcast messages in Chinese through a loudspeaker to drive the local ship away, the captain said.
A Chinese coast guard boat is seen approaching the Vietnamese supply ship Hai Dang 05 on November 13, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Hai Dang 05 sailors
At 11:30 am, the warship exposed a 37mm artillery gun by removing its wrappings, and more than 10 people in camouflage battledress armed with AR assault rifles were deployed in different positions on board, pointing their guns at the local ship, Captain Nga recounted.
At that time, Hai Dang 05 had 31 crew members aboard, including 17 sailors and 14 employees of the Southern Vietnam Maritime Safety Corporation.
“As a supply ship, Hai Dang 05 is not armed with any weapons,” Captain Nga said.
All the people on board were asked to stay in their rooms and closed the doors, and the ship still kept traveling in line with its initial itinerary while trying to avoid collisions deliberately staged by the Chinese vessels.
Meanwhile, the soldiers on board the Chinese warship kept aiming their guns at the Vietnamese boat until 1:30 pm, when all of the Chinese vessels left, Captain Nga added.
This bullying was reported to the National Border Committee, which will work with the relevant border guard and naval forces to verify it, a source of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper said.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs will take proper action after such verification, the source said.
Captain Nga said his ship has faced similar threats from Chinese vessels off Truong Sa, but the bullying on November 13 has been the most dangerous case so far.
In response to the incident, Pham Quoc Suy, general director of the Southern Vietnam Maritime Safety Corporation, said these Chinese ships violated the maritime law when they bullied and scared away the Vietnamese supply ship.
Tran Cong Truc, former head of the Government Border Committee, considered this a new action that escalates tension in the East Vietnam Sea.
A similar case happened to another Vietnamese ship, Thuan Thao 36, on October 7, 2015, when many Chinese ships pursued it when it was sailing from Son Ca Island to Song Tu Tay Island, which both belong to Truong Sa, said Hiet, director of the East Vietnam Sea and Islands Maritime Safety Company.
As the Chinese ships formed a formation in front of Thuan Thao 36 to block its way, the local boat had to change its direction to avoid a possible collision, he said.