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Simularity: Wrong photo does not make report wrong

/ 05:30 AM July 16, 2021

The US geospatial imagery company Simularity on Wednesday said it regretted using the wrong picture to raise the alarm on the alleged dumping of raw sewage by hundreds of Chinese vessels that could cause long-term damage to marine life in waters inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

In an online forum with journalists in Manila on Thursday, Liz Derr, Simularity’s CEO and cofounder, presented a sad-face poop emoji to replace the picture of the unknown ship at an undisclosed location, but stressed that the wrong image did not invalidate her report three days earlier.

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The picture showed a ship that looked like it was dumping effluents into the ocean. The image, however, was of a vessel involved in dredging in a part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2014.

Simularity, however, did not claim that the ship was dumping sewage or that it was one of the Chinese vessels in the Spratlys island chain.

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“First thing is that poop ship is gone. That image of the ship created an awful lot of consternation because it was not taken in the Spratlys,” she said in a briefing for the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

“At this point I regret putting that image in there because it made it easy for some government officials to say, ‘Oh fake news,’ when our analysis was not based on that image at all. It’s totally based on satellite imagery and the analysis we did there,” she said.

‘They’re not moving’

Repeating her report during a forum on Monday, Derr said the large amounts of nutrients from sewage and wastewater from ships would produce a high concentration of chlorophyll which in turn would create a harmful algae bloom that would eventually deplete the oxygen in the water and damage fish habitats like reefs and corals.

She said ships dump sewage at sea everyday, but they do this in open waters and while sailing, not while stationary.

“The fact that they’re not moving makes this a concern,” she said of the Chinese vessels that had anchored at Union Banks west of Palawan province.

“In terms of determining where that chlorophyll is coming from, it’s a bit of a smoking gun that we are seeing [in the satellite images] big blooms of plants right where the ships are,” she said.

“Now, I don’t know they could be growing a garden out there or something? But I’ve really got no other explanation for why there’s this bloom of chlorophyll of plants right next to all these ships,” she said.

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She urged the Philippine government to verify what her company found.

“We’ve done this from space because that’s really all anybody can do right now because that area is militarized,” she said. “But I wholeheartedly encourage the government to validate our findings, question our findings, understand the science and see for themselves.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana first dismissed Simularity’s report due to the wrong picture it had used. Later, he questioned its conclusions just by examining satellite images.

Nevertheless, he said he had directed the military’s Western Command to look into the report. On Thursday he said the Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources would visit the locations shown in the satellite images.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Thursday said allegations of waste dumping started with a “foreign agency issuing a report full of lies.”

“Finally, some anti-China forces used fake news to accuse and demonize China,” it said on Twitter. “It’s a typical ‘whole industry chain’ aiming at creating hatred and Sinophobia in the Philippines. Will people with common sense see through the trick?”

The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Wednesday filed a resolution calling on the committee on aquaculture and fisheries resources and the committee on foreign affairs to immediately investigate the reported waste dumping.

—WITH A REPORT FROM NESTOR CORRALES
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TAGS: Chinese vessel, dumping waste, Photo, Simularity
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