11 June 2014, News Wires – A Chinese oil rig operating in disputed South China Sea waters was reported on Wednesday to be on the move again, although China has denied Vietnamese claims it has sent warships to the area.
The semi-submersible Hai Yang Shi You 981 has been the focal point of outrage from the Hanoi government after state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation recently started drilling with the rig in an area near the Paracel Islands – or Xisha Islands as China calls them – disputed by both countries.
Vietnam has said the rig is operating within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf, while China claims the drilling work is taking place within its own waters.
Vietnam’s Directorate of Fisheries said in a statement reported by Reuters the rig had shown signs of moving towards the east and south-east.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Vietnam had sent a large number of armed ships to interfere with the rig’s operations but would not confirm whether the rig had moved.
She dismissed as “completely incorrect” accusations that China had sent six warships to the scene.
“Because Vietnam keeps forcefully and illegally carrying out interference, we have sent official Chinese government ships to guarantee security on the scene, but we have not sent military ships,” she told a daily news briefing.
Hua added the rig’s operations, which started on 2 May, were commercial in nature and the drilling work was expected to continue until mid-August.
“We hope that it can be completed smoothly and safely,” she said, accusing Vietnam of having stirred up last month’s violence against foreign companies.
The controversial deployment of the unit triggered violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last month that resulted in the deaths of four Chinese nationals as Chinese businesses were targeted by protestors.
Scores of Chinese and Vietnamese vessels are reported to have squared off in the area around the rig, with China claiming its ships have been rammed more than 1400 times.