China’s HD-981 Oil Rig Returns, Near Disputed South China Sea Waters


Reports began emerging in the Vietnamese media on Thursday that China’s Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HD-981) oil rig—the centerpiece of last summer’s clashes between Vietnam and China—was being redeployed off the coast of China’s Hainan Island, in waters where the disputed exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Vietnam and China overlap and west of the disputed Paracel Islands (known as the Xisha Islands in China). Vietnamese reports, citing a China Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) announcement, noted that the rig was deployed to the coordinates of 17°03’75’’ North and 109°59’05’’ East, approximately 120 nm from Vietnam’s coast, 63 nm from China’s Hainan Island coast, and 87 nm from the nearest Island in the Paracels (mapped below).


According to China’s MSA, the rig will explore for oil and gas from June 25 to August 20. The MSA’s announcement, pictured below, warns nearby vessels that sailing “within 2000 metres of [HD-981]” is “prohibited.” According to one Vietnamese maritime law enforcement source who spoke to Tuoi Tre, Vietnamese authorities are closely watching HD-981′s movement. M. Taylor Fravel, a U.S.-based China scholar, noted that “EEZ overlap at that location is about 100 percent; both have active [oil] blocks on their side.” The coordinates given by China’s MSA suggest that HD-981 is closest to Vietnamese oil block 115, but the oil rig remains closer to China than Vietnam. Greg Poling, an analyst working on the South China Sea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes that the coordinates provided by China’s MSA suggest that the rig is not yet within disputed waters (see map below).


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