Chinese ships arrive in Vietnam to pick up workers

By CHRIS BRUMMITT AND HAU DINH | May 19, 2014 | 12:35 AM EDT

In this Sunday, May 18, 2014 photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, passenger ships Wuzhishan, center, and Tongguling, left, are moored before setting sail to Vietnam , at Xiuying port in Haikou, capital of south China's Hainan Province. A port official said the two Chinese passenger ships have arrived at a central Vietnamese port to evacuate Chinese nationals following deadly rioting last week. The official said the boats with a capacity of 1,000 passengers each arrived at Vung Ang early Monday, May 19. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Wei Hua) NO SALES

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Two Chinese passenger ships were moored off a central Vietnamese port on Monday preparing to evacuate Chinese workers following deadly rioting last week, officials said.

The nationwide unrest, the worst to hit in Vietnam years, followed Beijing's deployment of a large oil rig in a patch of the South China Sea also claimed by Vietnam. Both nations have sent ships to the waters that are now locked in a tense standoff with each other, raising fears of possible conflict.

The boats with a capacity to carry 1,000 passengers each arrived at Vung Ang early Monday morning, said a port official who wasn't authorized to speak to the media. Thai Tran Linh, a government official in Ha Tinh, said the two boats were moored just off the port and were finalizing paperwork to dock.

Vung Ang port is part of a large Taiwanese steel mill complex 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Hanoi that was overrun by an anti-China mob last week.

Two Chinese workers were killed and 140 injured in the incident, the most serious in nationwide unrest in which several factories and industrial parks were attacked. Many factories were not Chinese-run but Taiwanese or from elsewhere in Asia, apparently targeted mistakenly or by gangs intent on looting.

The riot Wednesday and Thursday took place at a complex operated by the conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group, Vietnam's largest single foreign invested project. Linh said the complex employed 3,000 Chinese citizens.

Vietnam's government, furious at China's positioning of the rig, initially allowed street protests, a rarity in the authoritarian country. But since the rioting they have cracked down, aware that the violence threatened the country's reputation as a safe and cheap destination for foreign manufacturers to establish.

There has been no violence or protests since last Thursday, and many Chinese have left the country independently.