‘WORRYING STORY’ | Chinese vessels have massive presence in Spratlys -US think tank

2 months ago

(JANUARY 11, 2019) – Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) in its latest report found a “worrying story” about the scale of unseen Chinese fishing activity in the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea.

In an analysis titled “Illuminating the South China Sea’s Dark Fishing Fleets” published Wednesday, the AMTI director Gregory Poling said there is a “massive presence of vessels” in and around China-controlled outposts Subi and Mischief Reef.

“Two passes over Subi in August revealed 117 [Synthetic Aperture Radar] returns within the reef’s lagoon and another 61 in waters nearby, including Philippine-occupied Thitu Island just over 12 nautical miles away,” the report wrote.

Data were gathered using the SAR, a technology used to provide an approximate count of vessels at a given time and location.

The satellite-based SAR can identify anything metallic, like the structure of most modern fishing vessels as small as six meters.

“Two passes in October showed an even larger but more dispersed number of returns, with 19 in the lagoon and 190 in waters nearby,” the report furthered.

However, while SAR can provide an estimate of fleet size, it cannot have as much detail on individual ships.

In the absence of an Automatic Identification System signal, the high-resolution satellite imagery provides more important context.

The imagery showed that Chinese fishing ships account for the largest number of vessels operating in the Spratly’s so far. It also depicted that the numbers of fishing vessels in Chinese outposts are higher than what the SAR transmits.

“They often tie up side by side in large groups, which appear to be a single vessel in SAR,” the report said.


An analysis of historical imagery revealed a higher number of Chinese ships at Subi and Mischief in 2018 than in 2017. About 300 ships anchored at the two reefs were record at any given time in August, the “busiest month.”

“Over 90 percent of these were fishing vessels with an average length of 51 meters and a projected displacement of about 550 tons,” the report wrote.

It likewise noted the Chinese fishing boats captured in imagery are riding at anchor or transiting without fishing.

Clusters of around 10 large Chinese fishing vessels were seen gathered around the Thitu and Loaita Islands, which the Philippines occupies.

“Overall, the Chinese fleet in the Spratlys spends far less time fishing and far more time at anchor than is typical of vessels elsewhere,” it said.

In conclusion, the study said improved monitoring of the fleets in the area is critical if claimants hope to save the South China Sea fisheries. He also urged experts and policymakers to devote time to the number of militia vessels operating in the area on behalf of China.

The study is a product of a six-month project by the AMTI and Vulcan’s Skylight Maritime Initiative to “analyze the size and behaviour of fishing fleets” in the Spratlys.