Infrared imaging shows more ships entering EEZ
Data from Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) boat detection/ shared by Karagatan Patrol
MANILA, Philippines – The number of ships entering the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has increased dramatically since 2012, according to images compiled through the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) light detection sensor.
In a press conference on Wednesday, geographic information system (GIS) expert Jessie Floren of Karagatan Patrol shared a graph showing the situation from April 2012 to April 2019, as seen by VIIRS, which is attached to a satellite surveying the globe.
The map for April 2012 showed that only a few red dots — lights from ships — were present in the western EEZ. A year later, the dots began to enter part of the EEZ, especially those near the provinces of Pangasinan, Zambales, and Palawan.
The same scenario was observed in April 2014, 2015, and 2016. In 2017, a higher number of ships entered the EEZ. In April 2018, the dots were more concentrated near Luzon’s western seaboard.
“Ang ginawa namin is (What we do is) use this technology, which is actually a sensor in a satellite, primarily detecting lights not at sea,” Floren said during the forum at Annabel’s.
Floren said one of the functions of the system is detecting what is called “lure lights” used by fishing boats. She said there were obvious lights in Metro Manila, for example, but there are also lights at sea.
“So these are commercial if not industrial-scale fishing activities,” he added.
According to Karagatan Patrol, the VIIRS was launched by the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2011 to detect “high radiance lure light used by fishing boats.”
Floren explained that the Earth Observation Group (EOG) came up with an algorithm that would determine the fishing boats.
The project, which was an offshoot of the night light boat detection in municipal waters, is implemented under the partnership of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and NOAA.
There have been reports of fishing vessel surges in the West Philippine Sea, both during the previous and current administration.
Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea Executive Director Dr. Jay Batongbacal believes that these ships are foreign and probably from China because the lights from under-equipped small, local fishing boats cannot be detected by the VIIRS.
“Yung lakas ng ilaw nila, ‘don pa lang alam natin na mas likely talaga na foreign fishing vessels, at Chinese fishing vessels dahil sila lang ang merong ganyan ka-rami na (ships),” Batongbacal said.
(The lights can tell us that they are from foreign fishing vessels or Chinese fishing vessels because they are the ones who have that number of ships)
He also cited that it is not possible for Filipino ships to occupy the area because no commercial ships have been given licenses since 2014.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China’s nine-dash line territorial claim, which encompasses most of the EEZ, has no legal and historical basis. This legal battle has strained ties between Manila and Beijing during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, however, opted to restore relations with China. Citing the friendship between the two nations, he said recently that China can continue its fishing activities in the region. (Editor: Eden Estopace)