According to a recent US satellite image, China’s fishing/militia fleet is still present at Rozul (Iroquois) Reef, the same location where corals were discovered to have been harvested by divers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines in mid-September. The image, taken on September 17, shows at least 35 Chinese vessels operating in the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Under international law, a coastal state with an exclusive economic zone has the rights to the resources within that zone. China’s exploitation of marine resources at Iroquois Reef not only poses a significant threat to the marine ecosystem but is also illegal. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling support these claims.
Vice Admiral Albert Carlos, commander of the AFP Western Command (Wescom), reported that coral reefs near Rozul Reef have vanished due to extensive coral harvesting. Divers were sent to conduct a survey following the departure of Chinese maritime militia vessels from the area.
Furthermore, Philippine military air assets have observed Chinese vessels swarming in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal and Baragatan (Nares) Bank, two other areas within the Philippines’ EEZ. This further indicates China’s increasing presence and activities in the West Philippine Sea.
The persistence of China’s fishing/militia fleet at Rozul Reef not only threatens the marine ecosystem but also undermines the Philippines’ territorial rights. The Philippine government must take appropriate action to address these violations of international law and protect its marine resources.