A Vietnamese sailor has been shot dead this week in a clash with Malaysian authorities as competition for increasingly scarce fishing resources heats up in the South China Sea.
A Vietnamese fishing boat reportedly attempted to ram a Malaysian coastguard vessel on Monday.
"The coastguard crew had earlier fired warning shots in the air. But after they rammed and threw a bottle of petrol, my men had no choice but to open fire in self-defence," said Malaysia's coastguard chief Mohamad Zubil Mat Som.
One Vietnamese fisherman was shot. He was pronounced dead after being rushed ashore for treatment.
"We are saddened by this deadly incident. But I can guarantee … my men took this action to protect their lives and to protect our national sovereignty," Zubil added.
The fishing boat was one of a pair intruding on Malaysian waters. Vietnam's government does not dispute ownership of that region. Both boats and their crews have been detained.
Vietnamese fishers complain they are being driven further afield in an attempt to sustain their livelihoods. Their boats have been rammed, boarded and crews interrogated, they say, as Beijing attempts to assert its arbitrary claim to the exclusive control of the South China Sea's resources.
China's fishing militia – replete with political officers and military training – has become increasingly aggressive in recent years. The actions of its squid trawlers in the Sea of Japan appear to be linked to a spate of North Korean' ghost boats' – some with dead crew aboard – washing ashore throughout the region.
China's fishing fleet is now active again in the East and South China Seas after a four-month ban.
Beijing imposed the seasonal prohibition in 1999 in what it says is an effort to allow fish stocks to recover. It is also enforced on Vietnamese and Filipino fishers operating in the Scarborough Shoal, Paracel Islands and Gulf of Tonkin.
Neither nation recognises Beijing's claim of ownership over these waters. But that hasn't stopped Chinese state-controlled media from boasting that 1691 "illegal" fishing boats were seized this season, along with 630,000sq m of fishing nets.
Vietnam's fishing industry, however, has been increasingly accused of rampant illegal behaviour by its neighbours. There have been previous violent showdowns between its boats and Malaysia's coast guard.
Since June 24, 43 Vietnamese boats and 487 crew have been detained. Thailand has also been apprehending intruding vessels.
Singapore-based School of International Studies researcher Collin Koh told the South China Morning Post that "Vietnam does need to keep a tighter rein on its fishing community".
"It might be more helpful for such intra-Asean problems to be first properly addressed in order to foster co-operation on the South China Sea front in future."
But Malaysian think-tank analyst Thomas Daniel says Vietnamese vessels are being "pushed south by Chinese fishing fleets and enforcement vessels".
"There's been speculation that we're seeing more Vietnamese fishing ships here, and even afar as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea," he said.
Lecturer of International Relations at Vietnam National University Trang Pham told RadioFreeAsia: "This puts Vietnamese fishermen in a difficult position as they need to (move their) equipment to protect themselves from the aggressive behaviour of Chinese coast guards, which escort Chinese fishermen, and at the same time compete with a much larger number of Chinese fishermen in the area.
"Those fishermen are not rich, they just barely survive each day, so when they become desperate, they may react awfully."
Chinese fishing vessels operating on the edges of the world heritage listed Galapagos Islands in the South Pacific have "gone dark", according to Ecuador.
And Japan's defence forces have been placed on alert as boats begin to gather about the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
China operates the largest fishing fleet in the world. But it has stripped home waters bare, and the destruction of spawning grounds by the construction of artificial island fortresses may have done irreparable damage to the local ecology.
So the fleet – and Beijing – are looking further afield for vital food stocks.
Ecuador raised an international alarm earlier this month after a fleet of some 340 Chinese fishing boats appeared off the Galapagos marine reserve.
Beijing insisted its fishing militia would remain outside the protected waters. But this week Ecuador warned much of the fleet had turned off their location-tracking beacons.
"In this period, 149 ships have turned off their satellite systems … we know the name of the ships," Rear Admiral Darwin Jarrin told reporters.
"It is a breach (of protocol) on the high seas because they do not want us to know what they are doing and the activities they carry out," Defence Minister Oswaldo Jarrin added.
Meanwhile, Japan has again expressed deep concern at the constant presence of Chinese-government vessels about the Senkaku Islands during the past 18 months.
Okinawa administers the uninhabited rocks. But Beijing claims them as its own.
"The repeated activities are extremely serious," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said earlier this year. "Coastguard patrol ships have issued warnings, and we have protested to the Chinese side through diplomatic channels over and over again."
Now dozens of Chinese fishing boats are nosing about the area.
Beijing insists Japan has no authority over the islands, and regularly sends coastguard vessels to escort its fishing boats.
But Japan's Defence Minister Taro Kono said earlier this month that his forces were "ready to respond" – but refused to detail how. The Japanese Maritime Defence Force has since deployed more than 20 ships to patrol the islands.