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/ Source: Reuters

BEIJING - Vietnam said on Wednesday a Chinese vessel intentionally rammed two of its ships in a part of the disputed South China Sea where Beijing has deployed a giant oil rig, sending tensions spiraling in the region.

The foreign ministry in Hanoi said the collisions took place on Sunday and caused considerable damage to the Vietnamese ships. Six people sustained minor injuries, it said.

"On May 4, Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels," said Tran Duy Hai, a foreign ministry official and deputy head of Vietnam's national border committee.

"Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels," he told a news conference in Hanoi, adding that water cannons had been used.

Six other ships were also hit, other officials said, but not as badly.

A Chinese ship, left, shoots water Wednesday at a Vietnamese vessel while a Chinese Coast Guard ship, center, sails alongside in the South China Sea.Vietnam Coast Guard via AP

Dozens of navy and coastguard vessels from both countries are in the area where China has deployed the giant rig, Vietnamese officials have said.

"No shots have been fired yet," said a Vietnamese navy official, who could not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to media. "Vietnam won't fire unless China fires first."

The tensions between the two Communist nations come as both are trying to put aside border disputes and the memories of a brief but bloody border war in 1979. Vietnam is usually careful about public comments against China, with which it had bilateral trade surpassing $50 billion in 2013.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Tensions are also brewing in another part of the South China Sea where Beijing has demanded the Philippines release a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized on Tuesday.

- Reuters