Chinese fishing vessels serve as maritime militias in South China Sea —US think-tank


A significant number of Chinese fishing vessels roaming the disputed South China Sea are there not to catch fish but to allegedly serve as an additional militia force on behalf of its state in the resource-rich sea, a Washington-based think-tank said.

“A different kind of fishing fleet, one engaged in paramilitary work on behalf of the state rather than the commercial enterprise of fishing, has emerged as the largest force in the Spratlys,” says a special report authored by security expert Gregory Poling.

More than 50 percent of the fishing vessels in the world are operating in the South China Sea.

To track down and get a closer picture of the presence of the fishing vessels in the contested waters, various technologies such as Automatic Identification System (AIS), Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) were employed in the research published by the Stephenson Ocean Security Project and launched by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) this month.

The massive presence of vessels in and around China’s outposts, particularly its two largest at Subi and Mischief Reefs, was described by Poling as the biggest finding in the study.

Over a hundred fishing vessels were detected in the area by the technologies used in two separate instances in August and October 2018.

The research team then employed a high-resolution satellite imagery to get a closer glimpse at the details of the fishing vessels present.

By zooming in, the team discovered that Chinese fishing ships “account for the largest number of vessels operating in the Spratlys by far.”

“An analysis of historical imagery shows that the numbers of Chinese ships at Subi and Mischief were much higher in 2018 than in 2017,” the report said.

“In August, which appears to have been the busiest month, there were about 300 ships anchored at the two reefs at any given time,” it added.

Poling further noted that 90 percent of these fishing vessels has an average length of 51 meters and a projected displacement of about 550 tons.