Rozul Reef profitable for China, activities linked to reclamation – maritime law expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) — A maritime law expert is sure that vessels damaging corals in Rozul Reef (also known as Iroquois Reef) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are from China, claiming there is an entire industry in Hainan that profits from the harvested corals and other raw materials.

“It is a prelude to reclamation but at the same time it is also a very profitable industry for them. There is an entire industry based in Hainan which profits out of the destruction of these reefs,” Maritime Affairs expert Jay Batongbacal told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday.

“I’m pretty sure that these are the same Chinese fishing fleets that operate out of Hainan. They did this to the areas that they’ve turned into artificial islands and they’re doing the same thing now to all other reefs in the WPS,” he added, saying materials taken from the contested waters are made into Chinese decorations, jewelry, and trinkets sold in a sector of the Chinese province.

Batongbacal said the destruction of reefs is not surprising as fleets from the Eastern Giant have been damaging aquamarine habitats since 2013.

He said these acts are part of China’s "ecocide strategy" to drive away local fisherfolk from the area.

“Fishermen from the other countries like the Philippines will no longer have any reason to go to these places because there is nothing for them to catch anymore because the fisheries that are dependent on these reefs will also be gone,” he said.

Sen. Francis Tolentino earlier linked the destruction of the marine habitat in the WPS to a possible plan for reclamation in the area.

Over the weekend the military said it has observed damaged corals in Rozul Reef, as it suspects China of conducting harvesting activities in the area and connecting the activities to the recent vessel swarming in the WPS.

READ: ‘Concerning resurgence’: AFP reports more Chinese fishing vessels swarming West PH Sea

Batongbacal urged Congress to expedite the passage of a bill declaring the country’s maritime zones, claiming that this would establish the legal bases for activities that could be conducted in these areas. 

“Once that is clear, then we will have a basis to ask for international cooperation to try to combat these types of activities that destroy these coral habitats,” he said.

The expert cited the United Nation’s sustainable goal of conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources and said that the country has options to make the Chinese pay for the damage via treaties, conventions, and litigation.

Batongbacal also urged the government to document the damaging activities at the reefs to be able to collect evidence against the Chinese.

According to Tolentino, complaints against those responsible for the damages could be filed in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice, and for arbitration where damage fines could be demanded.

The Chinese Embassy has yet to respond to journalists' requests for comment about the destruction of the reefs.