The Scarborough Shoal and It’s Location
Scarborough Shoal or Scarborough Reef, also known as Huangyan Island or Panatag Shoal is located between the Macclesfield Bank and Luzon Island of the Philippines in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. It is a group of rocks or very small islands plus reefs in an atoll shape. The was named after the East India Company tea-trade ship Scarborough which was wrecked on one of its rocks on 12 September 1784 with all lives lost. Scarborough Shoal/Panatag forms a triangle-shaped chain of reefs and rocks or very small islands 55 kilometers (34 mi) in circumference with a total area including shallow water areas of 150 square kilometres. The shoal encompasses a shallow lagoon measuring 130 km2 and approximately 15 meters (49 ft) deep. The shoal is a protrusion from a 3,500 m deep abyssal plain. Several of the rocks or small islands including “South Rock” are ½ m to 3 m high, and many of the reefs are just below water at high tide. To the east of the shoal is the 5,000-6,000 meter deep Manila Trench. Near the mouth of the lagoon are the ruins of an iron tower, 8.3 m high, that was constructed by the Philippine Navy as a lighthouse in 1965. The shoal is about 123 miles (198 km) west of Subic Bay. The nearest landmass is Palauig, Zambales, on Luzon Island in the Philippines, 137 miles (220 km) due east.
Scarborough Shoal is the largest Atoll in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), it was largely unheard of before the implementation of the United Nations on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1994. The shoal is inside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines but is claimed by China as its ancestral territory since the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). This conflict, recurrent year after year during the fishing season, worsened from April upto this time.
See figure attached.
The Activities on the Shoal
Scarborough Shoal sits in the middle of a region rich in minerals, oil and gas. The shoal and its surrounding area are rich fishing grounds. There are thick layers of guano lying on the rocks in the area. Guano was an important source of nitrates for gunpowder. Abundant marine resources in the area attract fisherman from both China and the Philippines, which both claim it as part of their territory.
Why Scarborough Shoal Is Important?
Apart from obvious nationalistic reasons, the Philippines is fighting to assert its sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal to defend its claim over what lies not on but beneath and around the outcrop.
The Philippines needs those natural resources to fuel its economy and wants to extract them either on its own or via joint exploration projects like on the Benham Rise on the other side of Luzon.
However, massive offshore development in the South China Sea would threaten a unique marine ecosystem already severely damaged after decades of overfishing.
China has its priorities clear and wants to for the oil, while the Philippines would rather resolve the territorial dispute first and then decide what to do with the area.
Beijing has another interest in demonstrating its naval power in a region where the United States is struggling to regain a foothold after neglecting it following the Vietnam War, when the Philippines was Washington’s top ally in Asia.
The History of Scarborough Shoal
On September 12, 1748, a British boat named Scarborough, carrying tea, was wrecked on a feature called Maroona by Spanish cartographers. Maroona Shoal became known internationally as Scarborough Shoal. Maroona Shoal was first surveyed in April 1800 by a Spanish frigate, Santa Lucia, sent by Admiral Malaspina in Manila. A more precise survey of this feature was organized in May of 1866 by the British vessel H.M.S. Swallow under the command of E. Wilde. However, with the island of Luzon being the closest to Bajo de Masingloc (124 nautical miles or 220 km), responsibility for rescuing the vessels stranded at the...