‘Chinese fishing boats rammed the vessel, causing it to sink’

Tensions between China and Vietnam over the disputed South China Sea have heightened this week with both countries trading accusations over the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat near islands at the centre of a recent spat.

The Vietnamese government, which has been protesting the deployment of an oil rig by China off the contested Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, said on Tuesday 40 Chinese fishing boats had rammed the vessel, causing it to sink. The 10 fishermen on board had been saved by nearby fishing boats, the government said.

China disputed that account, with the official Xinhua news agency saying that the fishing boat had “harassed and collided” with Chinese vessels.

China has in recent days accused Vietnam of sending ships to disrupt its oil rig off the Paracel Islands, which Beijing claims. Hanoi has opposed the deployment, saying the waters were within its exclusive economic zone, around 200 nautical miles from its coastline.

On Tuesday, the Chinese operator of the oil rig, China Oilfield Services Limited (COSL), said the rig had moved to a different location as it had finished its first round of drilling. While the COSL did not say where the rig had been moved to, the announcement signalled the possibility of easing of tensions if the new location was beyond disputed waters.

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