WASHINGTON DC —
Vietnam has launched an official investigation into the killing of a fisherman in disputed waters near the Spratlys.
The incident enraged online users, and some social activists criticized Hanoi for not doing enough to protect its fishermen, who have been caught up in the escalating disputes over the South China Sea.
Ly Tho, vice chairman of Binh Son District, Quang Ngai Province, said the bullet-ridden fishing boat, carrying a crew of 13 members and the body of Truong Dinh Bay, docked at Sa Ky port on Tuesday, five days after it was attacked.
“The authorities are investigating the incident. They did a postmortem examination and got statements from the captain and others. The result will be announced once it is available,” Tho said.
Vietnamese media quoted Bui Van Cu, owner of the ship who was on board during the assault, as saying eight attackers on two speedboats approached, and Bay was shot twice as the crew tried to flee.
“They did not wear a uniform bearing the mark of any countries,” Cu said.
Earlier Phan Huy Hoang, chairman of Quang Ngai Association of Fisheries, said the fishermen told him that Philippine bandits might be involved in the case.
An official at Binh Chau Commune, who wanted to remain anonymous due to the ongoing investigation, said it has not been confirmed.
“For sure, they are foreign attackers, but their nationality is not known yet,” she said.
Speaking in a regular briefing on Tuesday, Le Hai Binh, the spokesman for the Vietnam Foreign Ministry, did not specify who carried out the raid. He condemned “the inhumane killing, and the use of force against Vietnamese fishermen.”
“We have instructed Vietnamese diplomatic missions in nations that line the South China Sea to quickly probe the killing and to clarify this serious case,” he said.
News of the killing came as Vietnam launched its most advanced coast guard vessel, tasked with the duties of “conducting sea patrols, search and rescue missions and supporting defense forces” on islands that Vietnam claims in the South China Sea.
While Vietnam continues trading accusations with other territorial claimants in the South China Sea, mostly China, over aggressive behaviors, its fishermen have borne the brunt of mounting tensions in the disputed waters.
Critics have accused Vietnamese authorities of putting fishing crews at risk when urging them to maintain their presence at sea to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Vietnam’s parliament, the National Assembly, last year endorsed a budget of more than $756 million to support its maritime forces and fishermen.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.