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Vietnam to Arm Fishery Surveillance Ships After Standoff With China

FILE - A Chinese ship (L) shoots a water cannon at a Vietnamese vessel (R) while a Chinese Coast Guard ship (C) sails alongside in the South China Sea, off Vietnam's coast.

Vietnam says all ships under the management of its Fisheries Surveillance Force will be equipped with weapons following a tense standoff with China over a disputed oil rig.

According to a government decree published by state media Friday, ships will be outfitted with machine guns starting September 15. Maritime force members will be equipped with handguns and machine guns while patrolling in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese and Chinese ships clashed several times during the standoff over the oil rig near the Paracel Islands. Hanoi says several of its fishing vessels were damaged and one sank after being rammed by Chinese vessels. Beijing said Vietnamese ships were the aggressors.

Beijing has not yet commented on the plan to arm Vietnamese fishing surveillance ships.

In an interview with VOA's Vietnamese service Friday, the captain of a Vietnamese fishing vessel, Le Van Xinh, said fishermen welcome the new decree in hopes of better protection.

“Whatever Vietnam is equipping for its maritime enforcement forces, it’s nothing compared to China; however, it’s rather than nothing. Both governments must take actions to solve the disputes since fishermen want to be safe and secure while operating at sea, not only to support our families but also to contribute products to our society. The more our government could protect us, the better for us; there’s nothing we could do about it," said Xinh.

Xinh, whose ship operates in waters near the Paracel Islands, says Vietnamese fishermen have vowed to defy China’s threats and keep operating in disputed waters. He says since China removed its rig, there have been no known reports of incidents or attacks in the area.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.