Chinese rig operation in S. China Sea illegal: Vietnam

HANOI - Vietnam has condemned as illegal the operation of a Chinese deep-water drilling rig in what Hanoi says is its territorial water in the South China Sea, and told China's state-run oil company to remove it.

The Maritime Safety Administration of China (MSAC) said on its website last Saturday that all vessels should keep 1.6km away from the rig, called the Haiyang Shiyou 981.

The US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion) rig is owned by China's state-run CNOOC oil company and it had been drilling south of Hong Kong.

On Sunday, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman objected to the Chinese announcement, saying the coordinates of the oil rig put it in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf, about 120 nautical miles off its central coast.

Spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement that Vietnam "resolutely opposed" the Chinese company's drilling, calling it "illegal".

Vietnam's state energy company PetroVietnam sent a letter to CNOOC on Sunday saying it strongly objected to China's action and insisted CNOOC immediately stop the illegal activities and pull Haiyang Shiyou 981 out of Vietnam's waters.

PetroVietnam's statement included a map showing the Chinese rig in an area east of exploration blocks Vietnam has designated as blocks 118 and 119.

But despite Vietnam's objections, MSAC yesterday expanded the prohibited area around the rig to a 4.8km radius.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the rig was operating "completely within the waters of China's Paracel Islands".

A Chinese government maritime agency said the rig will be in place until Aug 15, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said on its website.

Vietnam will "definitely take measures to protect" its business interests and its jurisdiction if China does not remove the rig, Industry and Trade Deputy Minister Do Thang Hai said in Hanoi yesterday, without elaborating.

The Paracel Islands are a frequent source of tension between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea. China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. The rival claims have raised fears of conflict.