Latin America

Satellite maps show foreign vessels swarming Philippine waters

JC Gotinga

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Satellite maps show foreign vessels swarming Philippine waters
Compiled satellite images from 2012 to 2019 show the increasing presence of foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – More and more foreign ships and boats are sailing into Philippine waters, venturing closer and closer to Philippine shores, based on satellite images studied by a local maritime monitoring group. 

Karagatan Patrol compared satellite images from 2012 to earlier this year, and found that the number of foreign vessels approaching and entering the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea has increased over that period. 

The video above shows maps with red dots representing vessels, based on satellite images gathered using Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), compiled and analyzed by Karagatan Patrol yearly from 2012 to 2019.

Here are the maps from April 2012 and April 2019.

“You will notice a few number of detection but this doubled in 2013 until 2017, though there is a slight decline in past couple of years,” Karagatan Patrol coordinator Jessie Floren told Rappler, referring to the images.

“This implies that the marine or fishery resources of our neighboring countries are in decline and they have to venture into new fishing grounds, and that includes our Fisheries Management Areas,” Floren added.

In recent years, Filipino fishing crews have faced increasing competition from foreign boats and trawlers in the West Philippine Sea.

Reports of Chinese fishermen harvesting giant clams at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, while the China Coast Guard kept the lagoon off-limits to Filipinos, sparked public outrage earlier this year. 

On June 9, a Chinese trawler hit a Philippine fishing boat at Recto (Reed) Bank near Palawan, leaving its 22 crew members adrift as their boat, the Gem-Ver, foundered.  They were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing crew

The incident raised concern over the increasing presence of foreign fishing vessels within the Philippine EEZ, more so over Chinese trawlers that have been reported to function as maritime militias for Beijing.

According to international maritime law, a country has exclusive rights to explore and exploit resources within its EEZ, including its marine life and fisheries. 

The government has faced a tough challenge patrolling and monitoring activities in the West Philippine Sea, with the Philippine Coast Guard hard-pressed against foreign poachers. 

The country’s sovereignty dispute with China adds a strong political dimension to the matter. 

President Rodrigo Duterte recently said he is unable to keep Chinese fishers away from the West Philippine Sea – a statement Malacañang afterwards walked back. 

Floren is worried that incursions by foreign fishers will eventually exhaust and deplete the marine resources of the Philippines – and beyond.

“My concern really is not only our fisheries production, but if bad fishing practices will continue in the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratlys) and Panatag Shoal, the entire fisheries sector of the ASEAN region will be affected,” Floren told Rappler, adding that the two features play a significant role in replenishing the region’s fish stocks.

Floren urges Filipinos to “take responsibility” for the country’s marine environment not only for their own sakes but for the rest of the Southeast Asian region, too. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.