Simularity explains as PH, Chinese officials cast doubt on sewage dumping report

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 14) — US-based geospatial imagery firm Simularity is standing by its report on Chinese ships dumping human waste in the Spratly Islands despite several Philippine and Chinese government officials expressing skepticism over its accuracy.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana have pointed out that a photo attached in the Simularity report released on Monday was an old one taken in Australia, not the Spratlys. When the Chinese Embassy was asked for a reaction, it discredited the findings by sharing a 2014 news report bearing the same image of a ship trailed by waste. The photo caption in that news report identified the location as Cairns, Australia.

Simularity explained that the confusion came after a local news organization used the photo without clearly stating it was not taken recently at the Spratly Island.

In the report, Simularity credited the photo as "unknown ship from Marine Executive" to show the effects of excess nutrients in water.

"Some parties have tried to discredit us, question our analysis, and claim that our report is 'fake news' since the ship was photographed elsewhere — in Australia perhaps. The purpose of the image was to provide context that illustrates the common sewage dumping practice of ships," it said. "There is nothing fake about our research and reporting. Images from multispectral satellites were used in the analysis."

It argued that the satellite imagery used to identify the presence of increase in chlorophyll A pigment in the disputed waters was recent, well researched, and validated. It said a human analyst identified the chlorophyll blooms as evidence of sewage dumping.

The report caught the attention of the public after it was revealed that Chinese crews of the hundreds of anchored ships continue to dump human waste and sewage in the reefs, causing long-term damage to marine life in the disputed waters.

Simularity said that the sewage discharge led to increase in chlorophyll A pigment, which is visible from space. This was also seen in the Union Banks or Pagkakaisa Banks, a group of features in the Kalayaan Island Group — which the Philippines considers part of Palawan province. It said chlorophyll A concentration leads to excess phytoplankton which cannot be consumed by the reef inhabitants, so they die and sink to the sea floor to be consumed by bacteria.