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Vietnamese Fisherman Suffers Broken Arm in Run-in With China Coast Guard

Huynh Van Hoanh
Huynh Van Hoanh / social media

Published Aug 31, 2023 6:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

A China Coast Guard cutter crew injured several Vietnamese fishermen with a water cannon this week in the South China Sea, including one man who sustained a broken arm, according to Vietnamese media. 

Face-offs between CCG vessels and fishermen from nearby coastal states are common in the waters of the South China Sea. China claims the vast majority of the sea as its own under its "nine-dash line" policy, which is based on historical usage patterns rather than international law. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague invalidated China's extralegal maritime claims in 2016, but Beijing has ignored the ruling. The Chinese claim overlaps with coastal states' EEZs, leading to frequent conflict over access rights and natural resources. 

The run-in on Monday occurred near the Chinese-occupied Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam. A Vietnamese fishing boat home-ported at Quang Ngai reported that it encountered the China Coast Guard vessel CCG 4201 at a position between the mainland and Woody Island, China's primary administrative center for its South China Sea claims. (China Coast Guard vessels have pennant numbers only, not names). As the fishermen filmed with their phones, the cutter's crew attempted to drive the boat off with a water cannon. The boat's owner, Huynh Van Hoanh, told local media that the crew attempted to take shelter from the water cannon in the boat's cabin, and that the vessel sustained damage.

Huynh said that he sustained a broken arm when he was knocked to the deck by the water cannon. "My eyes and nose were dark and I couldn't see anything. When I stood up, my whole body and hands were injured. Must be broken," he told local media. The boat's skipper also suffered a head injury. 

In the Philippines, the China Coast Guard engages in regular confrontations with fishermen and with the Philippine Coast Guard. The regular PCG resupply mission to the Philippine base at Second Thomas Shoal is a frequent flash point, and China Coast Guard crews have used aggressive maneuvering, illuminating lasers and water cannon to drive off Philippine supply vessels on this run. 

In response, the U.S. government is tightening up its alliances with regional partners, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, in order to deter Chinese expansionism. In a recent interview with Reuters, U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Adm. Karl Thomas said that it was necessary to push back against China's “aggressive behavior” on the water. “You have to challenge people I would say operating in a gray zone,” he said. “When they're taking a little bit more and more and pushing you, you've got to push back, you have to sail and operate.”