Ignoring China, Vietnam Extends Offshore Drilling Campaign

The Hakuryu-5 (Japan Drilling Corporation)

Published Jul 26, 2019 11:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Vietnamese government has announced an extension of the operating schedule for the Rosneft-chartered MODU Hakuryu-5, which is conducting an exploration campaign in Vietnamese waters despite China's protests. The rig will now stay in the region until September 15, according to Vietnamese paper Tuoi Tre. In its announcement, Vietnam's Southern Maritime Safety Assurance Corporation called for other vessels to stay clear of the rig, an apparent reference to an ongoing standoff with China over control over the area.

Hakuryu-5 is operating in an existing Vietnamese lease area, Block 06-01, which lies within Vietnam's EEZ. Russian oil major Rosneft holds the rights for the block, and since 2018 it has drilled two new wells in the area, despite Chinese warnings to foreign oil majors to stay away from Vietnamese waters. China claims sovereignty over a sweeping area of the South China Sea encircled by a rough "nine-dash line," which incorporates areas lying hundreds of miles from Chinese shores - including a large share of the Vietnamese EEZ. 

In an apparent response to the Hakuryu-5's activities, China has deployed a seismic survey vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 8, in waters near to the rig's current work site. The Haiyang Dizhi has been accompanied by up to four China Coast Guard vessels at a time, reportedly including the 12,000-tonne Haijing 3901, the largest coast guard cutter in the world. By way of comparison, the Haijing 3901 is nearly 4,000 tonnes heavier and 35 feet longer than a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Vietnam has deployed its own coast guard to monitor the seismic vessel and patrol the area. 

China has made clear that it expects Vietnam to cease drilling operations and respect Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea. For its part, Vietnam has called on China to end its unlicensed seismic activity within the Vietnamese EEZ, and the United States has backed its position, calling on China to cease its "bullying behavior."