* Scores of Vietnamese, Chinese boats squared off around rig
* First time a boat has sunk after spate of collisions
* Vietnamese crew rescued
* Chinese rig operator says first phase of drilling complete
(Adds another collision on Sunday, one killed)
By Nguyen Phuong Linh and Sui-Lee Wee
HANOI/BEIJING, May 27 Vietnam and China traded
accusations on Tuesday over the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing
boat not far from where China has parked an oil rig in the
disputed South China Sea, as tensions fester between the two
countries over the giant drilling platform.
Hanoi said some 40 Chinese fishing boats surrounded the
Vietnamese craft on Monday before one of them rammed it and it
sank. Vietnamese fishing boats operating nearby rescued the 10
fishermen on board, the government and the coastguard said.
China's official Xinhua news agency, citing a government
source, said the vessel capsized after "harassing and colliding
with" a Chinese fishing boat.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Vietnam
caused the incident with its "insistence on forcefully
disrupting China's normal operations and its dangerous actions
on the seas.
"We urge the Vietnamese side once again to immediately stop
all disruptive and damaging (activites)," he added.
Scores of Vietnamese and Chinese ships, including coastguard
vessels, have continued to square off around the rig despite a
series of collisions this month after the platform was towed to
the site. Each side has blamed the other over those incidents.
Until Monday, no ship had sunk.
The disputed incident took place around 17 nautical miles
from the Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig, which is drilling between the
Paracel islands occupied by China and the Vietnamese coast.
China calls them the Xisha islands.
"A Vietnamese boat from the central city of Da Nang was
deliberately encircled by 40 fishing vessels from China before
it was attacked by a Chinese ship," the head of Vietnam's
coastguard, Nguyen Quang Dam, told Reuters by telephone.
Xinhua said: "Crew aboard the boat were saved after their
ship jostled a fishing boat from Dongfang City in southern
China's Hainan province and overturned in the waters near
China's Xisha Islands."
Vietnam has said the rig is in its 200-nautical mile
exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf. China says
it is operating within its waters.
FIRST DRILLING ROUND COMPLETE
In another area of the sea, to the north, one fisherman was
killed and one disappeared when their boat was rammed by a
"strange" vessel on Sunday, a Vietnamese official said.
"We haven't had enough information to say where that strange
boat came from. In this sensitive time, of course we think it's
a Chinese boat," Pham Thi Huong, vice chairman of the Ly Son
government, told Reuters by telephone.
The boat was from the island of Ly Son, near the Paracels.
On Tuesday, the oil rig's operator, China Oilfield Services
Ltd (COSL), said the rig had finished its first round
of drilling and moved to another site in the area.
In a statement, COSL said exploration would still take place
off the Xisha islands, suggesting the platform was not moving
The rig had "smoothly" completed the first phase of its work
said COSL, the oil service arm of state-run China National
Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) Group, which owns the $1 billion
COSL said it had obtained relevant geological data from the
drilling, but did not give details or specify the current
location of the rig.
Neither officials from COSL nor CNOOC Group, parent of
flagship unit CNOOC Ltd, could be reached for comment.
Vietnam state television on Monday said its reporters on a
nearby boat had seen the rig move but it didn't say how far.
In line with previous statements, COSL said drilling was on
track to be completed by mid-August.
The rig is 240 km (150 miles) off Vietnam's coast and 330 km
(206 miles) from the southern coast of China's Hainan island.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last week said his
government was considering taking legal action against China
following the deployment of the rig.
That drew an angry response from China.
Earlier this month, mobs angered over the rig attacked
mostly Taiwanese factories in Vietnam. Many of the rioters
mistook Taiwanese companies to be owned by mainland Chinese. At
least four workers were killed.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea,
displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash
line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast
Asia. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also
have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.
(Reporting by Nguyen Phuong Linh in HANOI, Michael Martina and
Hui Li in BEIJING and Charlie Zhu in HONG KONG; Writing by Dean
Yates; Editing by Nick Macfie)