China's illegal fishing fleet at Iroquois Reef in the West Philippine Sea (images)

17 September 2023 satellite images of China's illegal fishing fleet at Iroquois Reef, deep within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. Approximately 35 vessels are visible. The Armed Forces of the Philippines recently released evidence that destructive Chinese fishing practices were destroying this reef.
Ray Powell | SEPTEMBER 19, 2023
China's illegal fishing fleet at Iroquois Reef in the West Philippine Sea (images)
Imagery credit: Planet Labs PBC

Ray Powell





Over the weekend, the Armed Forces of the Philippines released video evidence that destructive activities by Chinese fishing vessels have caused extensive damage to two underwater features within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone--Iroquois (Rozul) Reef and Sabina (Escoda) Shoal.

SeaLight has documented the presence of Chinese ships at both of these West Philippine Sea features throughout the year via our Twitter/X feed, but for today let's focus especially on Iroquois Reef. 

This helpful graphic from the invaluable Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) shows how Iroquois Reef lies a mere 125 nautical miles from the Philippine coast, northeast of the Spratly Archipelago and at the southwest edge of Reed (Recto) Bank.

Screenshot 2023-09-18 at 1.51.11 PM.png
Image credit: Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and Planet Labs

The same AMTI report from which this graphic was borrowed documented how up to 30 Chinese vessels were spotted at Iroquois Reef throughout much of 2021. SeaLight has posted evidence of similar numbers throughout 2023. 

For example, this post from May is representative:

Recent activity at Iroquois Reef had been even heavier, as we posted just 3 weeks ago:

Then just this past Sunday, 17 September, our imagery partners at Planet Labs provided clear visual evidence of approximately 35 probable Chinese fishing and maritime militia vessels operating at Iroquois Reef:

Iroquois Reef, September 17 2023. - Image credit: Planet Labs PBC


Iroquois Reef south, 17 September 2003. - Image credit: Planet Labs PBC


Iroquois Reef north, 17 September 2003. - Image credit: Planet Labs PBC

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, a coastal state granted an exclusive economic zone enjoys the rights to the resources within that zone. China's exploitation of the marine resources at Iroquois Reef is therefore not only highly destructive of the marine ecosystem, but also illegal under international law.

Ray Powell

Ray is the Director of SeaLight and Project Lead for Project Myoushu at Stanford University's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. He's a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was a 2021 Fellow at Stanford's Distinguished Careers Institute.

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