New photos show return of China's 'most destructive' boats in South China Sea

New photos show return of China's 'most destructive' boats in South China Sea

Chinese clam harvesting fleets have become more frequent in the South China Sea in the last six months, satellite photos released by a US think tank showed.

Since late 2018, satellite imagery has shown these fleets–described by the Center for Strategic and International Studies- Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative as “China’s most destructive boats”–operating frequently in Scarborough Shoal and throughout the Paracels, including at Bombay Reef.

In Scarborough Shoal, images from December 2018 suggest that a large number of clam boats had returned there.

“A comparison of imagery from December and March also reveals new scarring on the reef from recent extraction,” AMTI said.

Meanwhile in Spratly Islands, there was no clear evidence of new clam harvesting.

In Lankiam Cay, a mothership about 20 meters long and a number of small boats were spotted on April 7, the same day a Chinese maritime force was spotted near the Philippine-occupied Loaita Island and Loaita Cay.

“The absence of new scarring on Lankiam Cay after this boat’s departure would have previously indicated that no clam harvesting had taken place,” AMTI said.

“But new methods being used to extract clams at Scarborough Shoal suggest that documenting the activities of these Chinese fleets has become more difficult,” it added.

In Paracel Islands, the clam harvesting boats have been operating with regularity at Bombay Reef since late 2018, it also said.

Photos taken on April 11 showed sediment plumes, along with scarring across the reef surface, which suggest signs of a prop-digging method of extraction.

The extent of damage due to clam harvesting was also visible on Passku Keah.

“That reef showed no clear damage in imagery collected in February 2018 but by November it was littered with the telltale scars left by the harvesters’ props,” AMTI said.