Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tensions Increase in South China Sea and Piracy Levels Rise in Asian Waters

UN Arbitration Meets Cold Reception from Chinese Authorities
Shipping News Feature
ASIA – It is over four years since we first wrote of the escalating tensions in the South China Sea as no less than five independent states claimed some sort of domain over the regions on and around the Spratly ‘Islands’ and their rich veins of marine life and sub-sea gas and oil deposits. Developments today mean a further deterioration of relations after the Chinese refused to attend the Arbitration Tribunal to face Philippine representatives where the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) found that China ‘understands its rights to extend, in some form, beyond the maritime zones expressly described in the Convention’, the latter being the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The heightened tensions have caused much sabre rattling in the past few weeks, whilst China has been holding naval exercises between Hainan Island and the Paracels, the USS Ronald Reagan has in turn been flying patrols across the South China Sea. China has sealed off a street in Beijing where the Philippine Embassy resides and Filipino nationals warned to take care. The Chinese are annoyed that the Spratlys were declared by the PCA to be ‘outcrops’ as opposed to islands under the UNCLOS definition, something which prompted Chinese officials to retort that the decision was null and void with no binding force’.

The Americans reacted differently saying the ruling was final and legally binding whilst the verdict was greeted with jubilation in Manila when it was ruled that China had violated the Philippines sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Spratly’s could not, despite being described as an archipelago, be entitled to their own 200 mile EEZ, no matter who had sovereignty over them, a matter not dealt with in the arbitration.

The point was also made that Chinese developments of artificial islands in the region, seen by most as an attempt to underwrite its claim, was having a detrimental effect on the local environment. The full judgement can be read here.

The woes of the region do not end there as it is fast becoming a major hot spot for maritime crime. MAST, the international maritime security company, has today launched a Chinese version of its website after its Risk Map revealed Asia was the most active region for maritime crime in 2015. There were a total of 386 maritime crime incidents reported, with 66% of all pirate activity taking place in Asia (255 incidents) compared with 16% around the Horn of Africa and 17% on the West African Coast. Of the 255 incidents in Asia last year, 97% involved a ship being boarded by unknown assailants with almost half (47%) resulting in a robbery, and 10 cases leading to the ship being hijacked.

The launch of the new website follows MAST’s expansion into Asia with the opening of its Singapore office in November 2013, led by General Manager Ben Stewart. MAST is expanding its service to clients in Asia, supported by offices in Singapore and Chinese -peaking Sales and Operations staff in their Stansted office from where it manages the Risk Map, launched earlier this year to show real-time records of approaches, hijackings, pirate attacks and suspect activity incidents around the world.