Spratly Islands

The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of islands, islets, cays and reefs in the South China Sea. The area is claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The islands contain approximately 2 km² of land area, spread over a vast area of more than 425,000 km². Some of the islands have civilian settlements, some of them don’t. But all of them are occupied by military forces in an attempt to establish international boundaries.

One unique claim is China’s Nine-Dash Line, which depicts Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. The map originally contained 11 dashes and was issued by the Nationalist Chinese government in 1947. The Communist government adopted it when it took power in 1949, and later dropped two dashes to allow China and Vietnam to settle their claims in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Nine-Dash Line encompasses much of the South China Sea, but Beijing has not clarified whether it is making territorial claims on the land features inside this line or whether it is asserting maritime rights as well. In 2014, Beijing released a new map that featured an additional 10th dash to the east of Taiwan. Because it predates UNCLOS by several decades, the Nine-Dash Line is unrelated to an EEZ claim. source: Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

Fiery Cross Reef in 1988. China started the installation of concrete platforms after occupying the reef.

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Captain Richard Spratly was born in 1802 in East London. His father, Thomas Spratly, was a boat builder. At the age of 16, Richard first sailed as an apprentice on Earl of Marley, a whaler. In the years that followed, he sailed as a 2nd officer and later captain on the convict ship York to Tasmania. On March 29, 1843, he sighted what is now known as Spratly Island and Ladd Reef. His sighting was reported in The Nautical Magazine in 1843, issue 697:

“… at 9 h. A.M. a low sandy island was discovered from the masthead, bearing S.E.bE. four leagues. On nearing the beach was visible to the water’s edge, the top appearing to be covered with small bushes, and about the height of a Ship’s hull, with a black patch dividing the sandy beach in nearly two equal parts to the water’s edge… One [of these two dangers ] I call Ladd Reef, after Captain Ladd of the Ship Austen, who appears first to have seen it; the other Spratly’s Sandy Island.”

The publication of his voyage in The Nautical Magazine popularized his naming of the island, even though the island had previously been named “Horsburgh’s Storm Island” by the Scottish hydrographer James Horsburgh. The British Admiralty finally agreed that the scattered islands in the area be named the Spratly Islands.

In the 20 years that followed, Captain Richard Spratly sailed on the Cyrus, Margaret, Atalanta to Batavia, Sydney and Melbourne, mostly with emigrants. He died from pleuropneumonia in 1870, aged 69.

James Woolsey, a former CIA director under president Bill Clinton and an advisor to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, has said the U.S. won’t abandon its Asian allies to China’s “overreach”.

At the heart of the South China Sea dispute is the “nine-dash line”, Beijing’s claim that encircles as much as 90 per cent of the ­contested waters. The line runs as far as 2,000km from the Chinese mainland to within a few hundred kilometres of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. Beijing maintains it owns any land or features ­contained within the line, which confers vaguely defined “historical maritime rights.”

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In a highly anticipated ruling, a Hague-based international tribunal found that Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line of its territorial claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis. The tribunal also ruled on Tuesday that Beijing had violated international law by “causing severe harm to the coral reef environment.” The Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a 500-page unanimous ruling in Republic of Philippines v. People’s Republic of China, a case brought by the Philippines in 2013. source: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-nine-dash-line-at-the-heart-of-the-south-china-sea-conflict-2016-7?IR=T source: http://www.businessinsider.com/no-nine-dash-line-in-the-south-china-sea-2016-7?international=true&r=US&IR=T

Land reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef right now. 677 acres reclaimed. source: Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

People pose for a group photo together after landing at the airfield on Yongshu Jiao in the Nansha Islands, Jan. 6, 2016. China successfully carried out test fights of two civilian aircraft on Jan. 6 on a newly-built airfield. source: Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China

In 1947, the Filipino adventurer and fishing magnate Tomás Cloma (1904-1996) found several unoccupied groups of islands in the South China Sea. Cloma, owner of a fishing fleet and a private maritime training institute, aspired to open a cannery and develop guano deposits in the Spratlys. It was principally for economic reasons, therefore, that he ‘discovered’ and claimed the islands in the Spratlys.

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On May 11, 1956, together with 40 men, Cloma took formal possession of the islands, lying some 612 km west of the southern end of Palawan and named them “Freedomland”. Four days later, he issued and posted copies of his “Notice to the Whole World” on each of the islands as a manifestation of unwavering claims over the territory. On July 6, Cloma declared to the whole world his claim and the establishment of a separate government with its capital on Flat Island (also known as Patag Island).

Cloma’s declaration was met with hostile reactions from several neighboring countries, especially Taiwan. On September 24, Taiwan reoccupied nearby Itu Aba Island (also known as Taiping Island), which it had abandoned in 1950, and intercepted Cloma’s men and vessels found within its immediate waters. China also restated its own claim. In the 1970s, after being jailed by the Filipine dictator Ferdinand Marcos for being popularly called “Admiral”, Cloma ‘ceded’ his claim to the Filipine government for one peso.

Banknotes appeared that re-enforces a Chinese claim on the islands. They are issues of Chinese 1, 2 and 5 Jiao, 1, 5 and 10 Yuan notes that are overprinted in English on the reverse and Chinese on the obverse “FOR USE ONLY IN NANSHA ISLANDS”. The reverse of each the notes also bears a large red chop that refers to the South China Sea Fleet. source: joelscoins

Fiery Cross Reef was named after the Fiery Cross, a British Tea Clipper lost there on 4 March 1860. It was surveyed by Lieutenant J. W. Reed of the HMS Rifleman in 1866, who reported it to be one extensive reef in 1867, and found the apparent wrecks of the Fiery Cross and the Meerschaum.

Chinese stewardess celebrate test flight at Nansha Islands airfield. source: China Daily

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015.

REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

This photo released by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, shows what the Johnson Reef looked like on 28 February 2013. A Chinese-made structure stands on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

A total of 2,927 marine species have been recorded in the Spratly Sea, including 776 benthic species, 382 species of hard coral, 524 species of marine fish, 262 species of algae and sea grass, 35 species of seabirds and 20 species of marine mammals and sea turtles.

The terrain of the Spratly’s is generally flat and low lying. The highest elevational point is an unnamed location on Southwest Cay (4 metres).

Inhabitants: 20 families on the island of Pagasa (Filippines).

There are at least 150 named islands and reefs within the Spratly’s, the majority of these being reefs, sandbanks, atolls or submerged rocks. Some of the submerged reefs are up to forty kilometres long.

Area: 4km2 (14 islands or islets, 6 banks, 113 submerged reefs, 35 underwater banks, 21 underwater shoals).

The islands were inhabited at various time in history by Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen. However, there were no large settlements on the Spratly Islands until 1956, when Filipino adventurer Tomás Cloma decided to claim a part of the islands as his own, naming it the ‘Free Territory of Freedomland’.

Names: The Spratly Islands, Kapuluan ng Kalayaan (Tagalog/Filipino), Kepulauan Spratly (Malaisian), 南沙群岛 (Chinese); Nánshā Qúndǎo (Pinyin), Quần đảo Trường Sa (Vietnamese).