The Chinese Government has sent five ships to assist in the evacuation of its nationals in Vietnam, amid high national sentiment and escalating anti-Chinese riots in the country over a territorial dispute between the countries.

As part of the order, the first ship set sail on 18 May from the southern island province of Hainan, China. More than 3,000 Chinese nationals have already been evacuated in the last few days due to the tensions.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that around 16 critically injured Chinese nationals were airlifted from Vietnam on a medical chartered flight. Another two chartered flights have been arranged to bring nearly 300 people back.

The deadly protests, which first started as a peaceful march in two of country’s southern industrialised provinces on 12 May, broke out a day later into arson and destruction.

On 14 May, fights between Chinese and Vietnamese workers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, spiraled out of control and killed two Chinese citizens while leaving more than 100 others injured, according to Chinese foreign ministry.

Approximately 15 foreign-owned factories, including Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean operations in Vietnam’s major cities were also set on fire and looted by the rioters.

“Vietnam’s law enforcement ships tried to stop the illegal intrusion of Chinese escort vessels into the country’s continental shelf.”

The Vietnamese Government, which had allowed the protests for a week, has now urged the protesters to put an end to acts of violence over fears of damage to national stability.

Calling the incident “illegal acts” and demanding swift action, China’s Public Security minister Guo Shengkun was quoted by the news agency as saying: “We are strongly dissatisfied by the Vietnamese side’s failure to respond effectively to curb an escalation.”

The riots follow after Vietnamese agencies detected on 1 May that China’s Hai Yang Shi You 981 deep-sea rig was being escorted by three oil and gas service vessels to the south of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago.

Vietnam’s law enforcement ships tried to stop the illegal intrusion of Chinese escort vessels into the country’s continental shelf, and to prevent Beijing from erecting an oil rig in the South China Sea.

This led to confrontations between the parties and Vietnamese ships were aggressively fired at with a water cannon and rammed by Chinese vessels, damaging the boats and injuring several crew members.