MANILA, Philippines — An expert from the University of the Philippines (UP) who specializes in Maritime Affairs stated that the presence of the Chinese ocean bottom seismometer (OBS) proved that Beijing may be illegally surveying the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Last July 1, some fishermen found a device in the waters off Pangasinan. According to Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, the device was identical to the OBS manufactured by China Geological Equipment Group Co. Ltd.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Batongbacal said the OBS found by fishermen was “likely deployed either this year or last year.” Based on the information from the manufacturer, the OBS can operate from two to 15 months and retrieved six to 24 months later.
Batongbacal said there were at least three Chinese marine scientific research vessels monitored to be operating within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ): the Jia Geng (September 2020, May 2021); the Haiyang Dishi 12 (September 2020); and the Xiang Yang Hong 14 (July to August 2020).
Any of these vessels, or the R/V Shiyan 2 could have been deployed to conduct seismic exploration in the area.
“The installation of this instrument, even for a benign purpose such as monitoring the seabed, should have been with prior consent of the Philippines because (a) it is in the EEZ, (b) it can be used for exploration and exploitation of natural resources, so the Philippines has the right to withhold consent,” he said.
The maritime expert cited that China had, on at least two occasions, deployed OBS to conduct seismic surveys and explore the area west of Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), citing published journal articles written by Chinese scientists where OBS were used.
In 2011, 42 OBS devices were deployed inside Bajo de Masinloc to create a high-quality 3D tomographic map of the Zhenbei-Huangyan seamounts. Huangyan is the Chinese name for Bajo de Masinloc.
“Although these were deployed just outside Philippine jurisdiction, they demonstrate how China uses OBS to conduct detailed exploration of the [South China Sea],” Batongbacal said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque at an online briefing last week expressed confidence that China is not conducting oil exploration within the Philippine waters.
He refused to make an “official reaction” to reports that are based on “speculation.”
“So for now, we’re confident that there are no exploration activities being conducted within Scarborough,” Roque said.