MANILA—Chinese fishing vessels account for the largest number of ships operating in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea, satellite images taken in 2018 show.
The presence of the said vessels in the area was reported by Gregory Poling of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, using data from a 6-month joint project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Vulcan Inc.’s Skylight Maritime Initiative.
Poling's report was posted Wednesday, January 9, on the website of the CSIS, a Washington-based defense and security think tank.
Movement of fishing vessels in the disputed waters was tracked by CSIS and Vulcan using different satellite imagery, with a majority of the said ships settling in the lagoons at Subi and Mischief reefs.
"The size and quantity of Chinese vessels observed in the Spratlys suggests a massive overcapacity," Poling said. "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 Philippines and China have long figured in a maritime dispute, as Beijing refuses to recognize a UN-backed arbitral tribunal's ruling that invalidated its sweeping nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.
Philippine authorities have repeatedly raised concerns over China's activities in the disputed waters, particularly militarization efforts, which Beijing has denied.
August 2018 appeared to be the "busiest month" for Chinese ships, Poling said, as data showed more than 90 percent of fishing vessels in the Spratlys.
Poling said data from published Chinese catch levels show that Beijing gets "between 50 and 100 percent of the total estimated catch in the Spratly Islands."
Aside from fishing vessels, Poling also raised concerns over the presence of Chinese military ships in the disputed waters.
"The numbers of militia vessels operating in the area on behalf of China is much larger and more persistent than is generally understood," he said.
Poling noted the Yue Tai Yu fleet, which he said is usually "loitering" around Pag-asa island, and Loaita islands or the Kota islands.
"Experts and policymakers focused on the South China Sea will need to devote a proportionate amount of their attention to these actors and the role they play in the area," he added.
Over the years, China has been turning reefs and shoals in areas of the disputed sea claimed by the Philippines and other nations into artificial islands, installing military facilities there.