China sent 17 more ships on Tuesday to the Vietnamese waters where its unlawful oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 has been placed since early May, but the Chinese force there was less active than before, VnExpress newspaper correspondents reported from the scene.
With the reinforcement, the number of Chinese vessels in the area was raised yesterday to 136, including 37-39 coast guard ships, 12-14 transport boats, 18-20 tugboats, 55-58 iron-clad fishing boats, and five military ships – one vessel fewer than the number on Monday.
However, in general the Chinese force in the area was less active than days earlier, the Vietnam Fisheries Resources Surveillance Department commented.
During the morning of June 17, all Chinese ships were deployed about 7.5 nautical miles from the rig – closer than previously. All the prows of these watercrafts were directed outward from the platform.
At 9:30 am, a Chinese helicopter landed on the drilling rig, the department said.
In the early afternoon, several Vietnamese Coast Guard and fisheries surveillance ships approached the platform at a distance of nine nautical miles, but the Chinese side did not make any response.
Previously, Chinese ships would immediately speed up toward the local vessels at such distances, the department said.
However, several Chinese ships still managed to travel behind Vietnamese vessels to ram them, the department said.
At 2:50 pm, Vietnam Coast Guard ship CSB 4032 had to travel at up to 23 nautical miles per hour after finding Chinese vessel #21102 was rushing to it from behind.
Meanwhile, dozens of Chinese iron-clad fishing ships, with the support of Chinese coast guard #46102, scared Vietnamese vessels away from their traditional fishing ground about 30-35 nautical miles from the rig.
According to VnExpress Agency reporters at the site, the Chinese rig was probably preparing to move to a new position as it lowered its two cranes on Tuesday.
The onsite Vietnamese force is closely monitoring the movements of the rig, which has been maintained in the Vietnamese waters since May 1 despite Vietnam’s demand that China withdraw the platform and its escorting ships from the sea area immediately.
That Chinese vessels seemed to be less aggressive on Tuesday may stem from their tiredness after over one month of costly operations against the decisive resistance from the Vietnamese side, or from the weather conditions that might be about to turn bad, Rear Admiral Le Ke Lam commented.
The official also put forward a possible reason: Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi is currently on a visit to Vietnam to discuss bilateral cooperation and the oil rig issue, so the Chinese side may want to ease the tension to facilitate the working visit.
In fact, the Chinese force can still protect the rig at a distance of 7.5 nautical miles from it, the official said.