| HANOI, July 4
HANOI, July 4 Six Vietnamese fishermen have been
detained by the crew of a Chinese vessel in the South China Sea,
officials of both countries said on Friday, the latest in a
two-month fracas between the Communist neighbours over maritime
Authorities from the two countries disagreed on where the
boat was detained Thursday morning. Vietnamese officials said it
was in disputed waters 56 km (35 miles) off the coast of China's
Hainan Island and 290 km off Vietnam.
The arrests risk escalating the biggest breakdown in ties
between Vietnam and China in three decades. China's top diplomat
met Vietnam's leadership last month to try to defuse tensions,
but talks ended in stalemate.
China's Foreign Ministry said the fishermen had "broken the
law" by working in Chinese territorial waters 7 nautical miles
south of the city of Sanya on Hainan.
"Relevant Chinese organs are investigating," said ministry
spokesman Hong Lei. "China again requires Vietnam to take
necessary measures and strengthen discipline and education of
fishermen to prevent similar incidents from taking place again."
Vietnamese authorities lost contact with the fishermen on
Thursday morning, when a crew member radioed authorities to say
men from a Chinese vessel had come aboard the boat.
"One of the fisherman called local authorities, saying they
were being arrested," an official from central Quang Ngai
province told Reuters by telephone, requesting anonymity. "We've
been unable to identify the Chinese boat."
Those arrests were the first since the row erupted in early
May, when China deployed the Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig and
commenced drilling 240 km off the coast of Vietnam in waters
claimed by both countries.
That angered many Vietnamese, sparking rare protests and an
orgy of arson, rioting and looting of Chinese factories in three
industrialised provinces. Many turned out to be Taiwanese-owned.
DISPUTED WATERS, ISLANDS
Vietnam says the $1 billion platform is in its
200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental
shelf. China has said the rig is operating within its waters
near the Paracel Islands, which it occupies. Both sides have
argued for decades about sovereignty over the islands.
The two countries have been trading barbs for weeks, each
accusing the other of intimidation and intentionally ramming
rival vessels, which both deny. Vietnam has held news
conferences showing footage of what it says are Chinese vessels
working in pairs to corner Vietnamese boats and crash into them.
Vietnam's Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, on Thursday
approved a 16 trillion dong ($753 million) budget to build 32
new vessels and support fishermen affected by the conflict.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, but
parts of the potentially energy-rich waters are also subject to
claims by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Le Hai Binh, told
reporters on Thursday that Vietnam was "carefully considering"
legal action against China but any such move would have to be
timed to its advantage.
(Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen in Hanoi and Ben Blanchard
and Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing; Editing by Martin Petty and