KUALA LUMPUR • A Chinese government survey ship was seen tagging an exploration vessel operated by Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas in disputed waters in the South China Sea, three regional security sources have said.
China’s Haiyang Dizhi 8 entered waters near Malaysia last Thursday, according to ship tracking website Marine Traffic.
On Friday, it was close to the Petronas-operated West Capella, according to the security sources, who asked not to be identified.
One of the sources said a Vietnamese vessel was also tagging the West Capella.
The area is close to waters claimed by both Vietnam and Malaysia, as well as China through its sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea within its U-shaped “nine-dash line” that is not recognised by its neighbours or most of the rest of the world.
The United States has accused China of taking advantage of the distraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic to advance its presence in the South China Sea.
Last Wednesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was conducting normal activities, and accused US officials of smearing Beijing.
A Malaysian security source said the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was flanked at one point on Friday by more than 10 Chinese vessels, including those belonging to maritime militia and the coast guard. That source also mentioned the Vietnamese vessel.
Mr Zubil Mat Som, the head of Malaysia’s maritime enforcement agency, confirmed that the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was in Malaysian waters, Malay-language daily Harian Metro reported.
“We do not know its purpose, but it is not carrying out any activities against the law,” he was quoted as saying.
The Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office, the defence ministry and Petronas did not respond to requests for comment.