MANILA, Philippines — Chinese fishing vessels comprise the largest number of ships operating in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea so far based on satellite imagery.
Gregory Poling, director of Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, noted that satellite imagery reveals most of these ships congregate in the lagoons at Subi and Mischief Reefs, as well as nearby waters around Philippine-claimed islands.
In an article titled “Illuminating the South China Sea’s Dark Fishing Fleets,” Poling discussed the possibility of Chinese maritime militia loitering around Pag-asa Island, one of the largest features in the Spratlys.
Subi and Mischief Reefs are two of Beijing’s military outposts in the disputed area, where it has installed surface-to-air missiles and electronic jamming equipment in the past year.
“Two passes over Subi in August revealed 117 SAR returns within the reef’s lagoon and another 61 in waters nearby, including around Philippine-occupied Thitu Island just over 12 nautical miles away,” Poling wrote.
The Synthetic Aperture Radar is one of the technologies used to monitor fishing activity in the study. It can identify anything metallic, such as the hull and superstructure of modern fishing vessels as small as six meters.
Two passes of the SAR in October last year revealed that 19 ships were spotted in the lagoon of the two reefs and 190 in waters nearby.
An analysis of satellite imagery shows the Chinese fishing boats near the military outposts often ride at anchor or transit without fishing.