US tech firm bares heavy presence of Chinese vessels near PH-occupied island
MANILA, Philippines—Chinese vessels continued to freely enter an area near Pag-asa (Thitu), an island administered by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, according to a US technology firm.
A report from the South China Sea Rapid Alert Service of Simularity, a tech firm based in Florida, said there were at least 20 vessels near Pag-asa on Oct. 9 alone.
Simularity provides free alerts and reports to subscribers on developments in the South China Sea using satellite images focused on target locations which are fed into an artificial intelligence software that detects “anomalies” or changes from one period of time to another.
According to Simularity CEO Liz Derr at an online forum hosted by Stratbase ADR Institute on Wednesday, more vessels were detected in August and September. Derr did not elaborate.
Derr, however, raised concern over “suspicious” Chinese cargo ships “pulling into some places in the Philippines that are very small and don’t have good ports.” One cargo ship, spotted in October and November, was at least 105 meters long, she said.
Another cargo ship was seen staying for eight days last February near Dinaran Island in Palawan province.
But in a report posted on its website, Simularity said “automated analysis” of satellite images throughout 2020 “indicates that there was a heavy presence of large ships near Pag-asa Island in February 2020 but that the numbers tapered off significantly between March and May.” The report defined large ships as those measuring 30 meters or more in length.
“The number of large ships in the area started to rise again in June and July with a sharp increase in August and September,” the Simularity report said.
Experts have said that the boats are part of a maritime militia deployed by China as multiplier force for the People’s Liberation Army. Militias are being used to aggressively enforce China’s territorial claims in South China Sea, including West Philippine Sea, without sparking overt war.
Chinese vessels, however, had been reported to be harassing or attacking vessels from other countries in the region, including the Philippines, that they run into in South China Sea.
Data gathered by Simularity in recent months also confirmed the almost permanent presence of China Coast Guard near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, which are also inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In a separate post on its website, Simularity said imagery analysis showed the presence of at least 150 fishing vessels on the harbor of Panganiban (Mischief) Reef as of Oct. 22. The reef is also within the Philippines’ EEZ.
The Hague court’s 2016 ruling said the reef and surrounding waters belonged to the Philippines.
Simularity also noted anomalies or changes in Panganiban Reef and other islands being claimed, occupied and militarized by China in Spratlys.
In Panganiban Reef for instance, changes were detected on concrete pavements and parking areas near two radar towers, which had been built by China on the reef. Other developments in the area, however, were deemed to be insignificant.
Derr said China was much more active in the Paracels, where there were new structures and additional construction in some areas.
Vietnam likewise had been “working hard” the past several months in the Spratlys, she said. It has placed radars and other defense-related infrastructure on some reefs and built two new platforms.
She added that Simularity had also detected the Philippines’ construction of a port on Pag-asa this year.
Derr said the South China Sea Rapid Alert Service, which Simularity provides for free, will supply data that would be featured on Stratbase’s website. The service aims to improve awareness of the situation in the region, according to Simularity.
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