China navy boards Vietnam boat in sea spat

Posted at 07/15/11 12:11 AM

HANOI, Vietnam - Sailors from China's navy beat the captain of a Vietnamese fishing boat and confiscated its catch in an area of the South China Sea claimed by both countries, a coastguard official said Thursday.

"The Chinese sailors had sub machine guns and batons," said the coastguard on condition of anonymity, adding that about one tonne of fish was taken from the vessel during the incident on July 5.

The official said boat captain Nguyen Thua "was beaten" by Chinese naval personnel, who then escorted the vessel and 10 crew members out of the fishing area.

"This sea area is within Vietnamese sovereignty and at present, we are still questioning other relevant fishermen," the official added, saying the Chinese sailors had been aboard a warship and approached the Vietnamese boat in a canoe.

The incident happened northeast of the potentially oil-rich Paracel Islands amid an escalating maritime dispute between China and Vietnam.

Vietnam has accused China of taking increasingly aggressive action in staking its claims in the South China Sea.

An unprecedented series of protests in Vietnam -- unusual in the authoritarian country -- have taken place in recent weeks over the issue, although state police forcibly dispersed an anti-China rally in Hanoi on Sunday.

In May, Vietnam said Chinese marine surveillance vessels cut the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside Hanoi's exclusive economic zone.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, which is believed to have vast oil and gas deposits, while its shipping lanes are vital for global trade.

The latest incident comes despite recent reports by Vietnamese state media that both sides agreed to resolve their territorial disputes peacefully in talks held on June 25 in Beijing.