Philippines, US may use space tech to monitor South China Sea actions

THE PHILIPPINES and the United States are considering using satellite image technology to monitor vessels in the South China Sea, including those that pass through Manila’s exclusive economic zone, the US Department of State said in a statement on May 13.

The technology could help ensure the safety of seafarers while preventing illegal and unregulated fishing in the Philippines’ territorial waters, the agency said, citing officials from the Philippine Space Agency and US State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs who met on May 2.

“Such programs can help monitor and document vessels in the Philippines’ territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, ensure the safety of mariners at sea, monitor and protect the environment and help combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” it said.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened in the past year as Beijing continues to block Manila’s resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, where it grounded a World War II-era ship in 1999 to assert its sovereignty.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. A United Nations-backed tribunal based in the Hague in 2016 ruled that China’s claims had no basis under international law, a decision that China has rejected.

A US delegation led by Deputy Assistant State Secretary Rahima Kandahari earlier said the US Department of Transportation’s SeaVision program is an important tool in boosting maritime monitoring.

SeaVision is a web-based maritime situational awareness tool that uses satellite imagery and infrared to track ships and boost maritime security, according to the US Transportation department’s website.

The Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and National Coast Watch Center have been using the system since 2021, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita C. Daza told reporters in a WhatsApp message.

The officials also agreed to look into setting up in Manila a US Geological Survey Landsat ground station, a satellite system that takes images of an area’s surface to track land use and document changes caused by climate change, wildfires and urbanization.

Both sides also committed to expand satellite-enabled broadband internet to far-flung areas in the Philippines through US low-earth orbit communication satellites.

Manila is also considering signing the Artemis Accords, which sets guidelines to ensure safety and responsible behavior in outer space.

“Both countries agreed to work together to expand bilateral exchange and training programs on the use of Earth observation satellite data, development of space applications and technologies and other space science and skills,” the US State department said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez