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Whitsun Reef / Julian Felipe Reef / Da Ba Đau - 10°00'10?N 114°39'58?E

Between 1970 and 1978, the Philippine moved in to occupy seven features in the Spratlys, with troops stationed on five islands. The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia are sometimes referred to as Beijing’s “little blue men”. In March 2021 a fleet of Chinese ships moved through the Union Banks, a collection of small land features disputed between China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. Among the most significant features in this area are the Chinese-controlled Hughes Reef and Johnson Reef, and Vietnam’s Sin Cowe Island and Collins Reef.

The charts of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) depict Whitsun Reef as a low-tide elevation, consistent with the Philippines’ characterization of the feature. The only exception is a Japanese chart, which indicates an exposed feature at Whitsun Reef’s southern tip. All modern charts, save the Russian one, depict the feature as a low-tide elevation. Da Ba Dau was identified as the Vietnamese name for Whitsun Reef.

The Kalayaan Island Group, in the West Philippine Sea, is rich in marine and energy resources and serves as an important source of food, livelihood and foreign exchange earnings. The discovery of oil and natural gas in commercial quantities in the region has also been important in supporting the Republic’s energy needs. Out of the 33 oil and natural gas service contracts awarded by the Philippine Republic nationwide, 15 of them are found in this area. A total of approximately 11.9 million hectares, or about 47% of the total area covered by service contracts in the Philippines, are located in the Kalayaan Island Group. In addition, the Malampaya Natural Gas-to-Power Project and the Recto (Reed) Bank service contract are aimed at developing an estimated 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Kalayaan Island Group. Malampaya gas now provides approximately 40% of the electric power requirements of Luzon, where most of the country’s economic activities are located.

Philippine President Ferdinan Marcos, through his Presidential Decree (PD) 1596 in 1978, annexed a hexagonal territory covering most of the Spratly islands — which China and Vietnam had claimed several decades earlier. The Kalayaan Island Group, a hexagonal area of 17 million hectares, was the first addition to sovereign area since the 1898 Treaty of Paris under which Spain turned over their colony to the US. In 2016 a five-man arbitral Tribunal of the International Court of Justice handed down its decision, on the basis of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), noting in Paragraph 574 of the Arbitration Decision that : "In any event, however, even the Philippines could not declare archipelagic baselines surrounding the Spratly Islands." The US and many other states did not officially recognized the KIG as part of Philippine territory.

Kalayaan Island Group Kalayaan Island Group

Forty-four Chinese maritime militia ships remained off Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea despite a protest filed by the Philippines and a demand for Beijing to pull them out, a national task force said. "On March 29, 2021, 44 Chinese maritime militias remain moored, anchored, and stationary at Julian Felipe Reef," according to National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) in a statement. A recent maritime patrol by the Philippine military also saw that aside from these 44, over 200 other Chinese vessels were seen scattered over the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG). "The Philippines calls on China to immediately withdraw these vessels flying its flag," the NTF-WPS said.

"NTF WPS stands by its observation that these so-called 'fishing' vessels are maritime militia. Their build-up and massing formation from Julian Felipe Reef to other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group is hazardous to navigation and safety of life at sea," it added. "Their swarming also poses a threat to the peaceful exercise of sovereign rights of the Philippines in its EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone)," it added.

After our three rounds of routine aerial and maritime sovereignty patrol missions complemented by the filing of a diplomatic protest by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the number CMM recorded at 220 on 7 March 2021, remained high at 183 on 22 March 2021, and 199 on 27 March 2021," NTF WPS said. Also on March 29, 44 CMM vessels remained moored, anchored, and stationary at Julian Felipe Reef. "In addition, 115 CMM vessels are now monitored in Chigua (Kennan) Reef, 45 vessels in Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands and the other 50 vessels are dispersed in Panganiban (Mischief), Kagitingan (Fiery), and Zamora (Subi) Reefs, all within the Kalayaan Island Group. Four People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels are also at Panganiban Reef, which forms part of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf of the main Philippine archipelago," it added.

The continued presence of Chinese maritime militia ships in the West Philippine Sea shows China's intention to occupy other features in the area, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said 04 April 2021. "The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea," he said. Lorenzana called for the withdrawal of the remaining Chinese ships off Julian Felipe Reef saying there is no reason for them to stay there. China has done this before at Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, and at Panganiban Reef "brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights under international law" he said. "As a party to the DOC (Declaration of Conduct), China should refrain from conducting activities that disturb regional and international peace and security," he added, referring to the 2002 DOC of Parties in South China which China and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) which was signed in November of that year. He said he is not a fool since the weather has been good so far, hence the ships have no other reason to stay there.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila tweeted to the U.S. Embassy twice 22 March 2021. The first read: “The United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue. Fanning flames and provoking confrontation in the region will only serve the selfish interests of individual country and undermine the regional peace and stability.” The second said: “Both China and the Philippines are sovereign and independent countries. We have the will, wisdom and ability to properly handle relevant issues through bilateral channels.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price added the U.S. view in a tweet 23 March 2021: “The U.S. stands with our ally, the Philippines, regarding concerns about the gathering of PRC maritime militia vessels near Whitsun Reef. We call on Beijing to stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others, which undermines peace and security.”

China’s embassy in the Philippines blamed “some external countries” for stoking tensions in the region. “Within our region tensions are rising because some external countries are bent on playing fusty geopolitical games. It is a pity that some Asian country, which has disputes in the East China Sea and is driven by the selfish aim to check China’s revitalisation, willingly stoops as a strategic vassal of the US.”

The Chinese embassy in Manila on 23 March 2021 said Washington was “not a party to the South China Sea issue.... Fanning flames and provoking confrontation in the region will only serve the selfish interest of [an] individual country and undermine the regional peace and stability,” it tweeted.

In a Philippine Congress hearing to confirm new envoys on 24 March 2021, foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr said the Philippines might invoke its defence treaty with the US to deal with the incursion. The treaty, signed in 1951, dictates that Manila and Washington will come to each other’s assistance if either is attacked. “Although we might not have at the moment the means to give [Beijing a] bloody nose, we do have a Mutual Defence Treaty,” Locsin said. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on 23 March 2021 tweeted that “the US stands with our ally, the Philippines” regarding concerns about the Chinese vessels near Whitsun Reef. “We call on Beijing to stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others, which undermines peace and security,” he wrote, without mentioning the treaty.

The Philippine military aircraft were sent daily to monitor the situation, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement on 27 March 2021. He said the military will also beef up its naval presence in the South China Sea to conduct "sovereignty patrols" and protect Filipino fishermen. "Our air and sea assets are ready to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights," he said.

Maritime Militia - Philippines EEZ March 2021 Maritime Militia - Philippines EEZ March 2021 Maritime Militia - Philippines EEZ March 2021 Maritime Militia - Philippines EEZ March 2021

Maritime Militia - Philippines EEZ March 2021 Maritime Militia - Philippines EEZ March 2021

Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, (9°58'N., 114°39'E.), the largest of the Union Banks group, is triangular in outline and lies at the NE end of Union Atoll. Rocks on the reef uncover at LW and the reef is marked by breakers in winds of moderate force. The Northeast limit of the Union Banks summit is defned by Whitsun Reef. Shaped like the numeral seven, with an area of 10km2, this is the largesgt coral reef on the bank. In 1957 the American sailing directions reported the presence of a small cay that Japanese and Taiwanese chargts indicated was situated about 2.5nm from the northeast tip of Whitsun Reef. In the 1958 and 1994 American sailing directions, there is no refernce to any cay on Whitsun Reef.

Julian Felipe was the author of the "Philippine National Anthem."

Whitsun Day is a high Festival observed in the Church on the fiftieth day after Easter, in commemoration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost as they were all with one accord in one place” in Jerusalem. Whitsun Day is the Birthday of the Christian Church, and as such it has been commemorated for nearly two thousand years by Christian people and observed by them with holy joy and deep thanksgiving for the fulfilment of the Lord's promise to send the Comforter to His comfortless people. During this week the Whitsun Ember Days are observed, (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday), as a preparation for Trinity Sunday, one of the stated times of Ordination.

As to the derivation of the word “ Whitsun" there seems to be great uncertainty and difference of opinion. The Festival of Whitsuntide, the Feast of Pentecost, is properly Whitsun Day, first part of the day-name having been corrupted, the fiftieth day after Easter. Some derive it from the word white, shortened to “whit," in reference to the diffusions of light and knowledge which on this day were shed upon the Apostles, in order to the enlightening of the world; also in reference to this being the time of Baptism in the ancient Church, each candidate being clothed with white garments. Others derive it from the old Saxon word wit, meaning wisdom which is the special gift of the Holy Ghost.

The name Whitsuntide is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon word "witton,” to have wit or knowledge, alluding to the miraculous gift or knowledge of tongues and speech that is commemorated on Whitsun Day. Whitsunday is said to be a corruption of White Sunday, so called from the white clothes of the communicants or others who attended church. It is curious that this name should be so mistaken. It is neither White Sunday (for, in truth, the color is red) nor Huit Sunday, as the eighth after Easter; but simply, by various corruptions of the German Pfingsten, the Danish Pintse, the various patois, Pingsten, Whingsten, &c., derived from Pentecost. The corruption is easy and plain enough: if more proof were wanted, note-1. That, as it is not Easter Sunday, but Easter Day, so it is not Whit Sunday, but Whitsun Day. Although the barbarous corruptions of Whit Monday and Whit Tuesday are now in vogue (they do not occur in the Prayer Book), yet no one ventures to speak of Whit week, or Whit-tide, or Whit holidays, but of Whitsun week or the old terms Whitsun ales, Whitsun hirings, Whitsun holidays, Whitsuntide, Whitsun week, or Wissun wik as it is sometimes called.

Union Banks and Reefs lie about 17 miles southeastward of Discovery Small Reef. The reefs extend in a northeast to Southwest direction and encompass an unexamined lagoon about 28 miles long and up to 7 1/2 miles wide. The rim, upon which are located numerous drying reefs and several Small cays, surrounds a lagoon with large shoals.

Sin Cowe Island (9°52'N., 114°19'E.), a reef-fringed cay, 4m high, lies on the NW side of Union Atoll. There is a settlement consisting of some buildings on the island and a beacon at its NE end. A dredged harbor basin and quay, entered from the SSW between two breakwaters, makes up about half of the island’s footprint. Anchorage, for small vessels, can be taken in 42.1 m (23 fm.) inside the lagoon about 400 yards southeastward of a beacon which stands near the northeast end of the cay. The lagoon is entered from northwestward by passing about 1,250 yards northeastward of the cay, between the cay and a reef lying to northeastward.

Grierson Reef, a small cay lying 5 miles SW of Whitsun Reef, is formed by sandy beaches with two black above-water rocks to the S. A small settlement with a short pier is established on the island. The W lagoon is accessible only to small boats and has depths of 5.5 to 14.6m interspersed with coral shoal heads. Anchorage can be taken northeastward of Grierson Reef in 34.8 m (19 fm.), or eastnortheastward of the reef in 9.1 m (5 fm.) to 34.8 m (19 fm.). The anchorage is approached from the southeastward. Ships should navigate close to the west side of Ross Reef, located about 1 1/4 miles eastward of Grier Son Reef, in order to avoid two 6.7 m (22-ft.) Shoals, marked by discolored water, These shoals lie 656 yards east-southeastward and 765 yards Southeastward of Grier Son Reef. Lansdowne Reef, a shoal with a white sand dune, lies about 6 miles northeastward of Johnson Reef.

Johnson Reef partly encloses a shallow lagoon entered from northeastward. The largest rock on Johnson Reef, about 4 feet high, is stated to be located in position 9°42'N., 114°16'30’E. Several rocks show above water on the southeast part of the reef. The remainder of the reef was reported as covered. An artificial island with a dredged berth, has been established on the E side of the reef. The berth can be accessed via a dredged and marked channel leading to the N opening in the reef. A light is shown from a red and white tower, in addition to a large structure and a radar dome tower being present on the island.

Collins Reef, of small extent and having a coral dune on its southeast part, lies about 1 1/2 miles north-northwestward of Johnson Reef. The two reefs are separated by a deep channel. Discolored water was reported (1992) to lie SW of Johnson Reef in position 9°32.5'N, 114°02.0'E In the SE part of the South China Sea lies an oblong area about 52,000 square miles in extent, known as Dangerous Ground. Dangerous Ground is a large area to the NW of the Palawan Passage which is known to abound with dangers. No systematic surveys have been carried out in the area, and the existence of uncharted patches of coral and shoals is likely. 1.21 Sovereignty over some of the islands in Dangerous Ground is subject to competing claims which may be supported by a force of arms. Vessels are warned not to pass through this area. 1.21 The area is studded with sunken reefs and coral atolls awash. The major axis of the area bears about 045°-225° for a distance of 340 miles with a maximum breadth along its minor axis of 175 miles. For the approximate limits of Dangerous Ground, the appropriate charts should be consulted.

Squalls frequently arise temporarily reducing visibility to zero. The sea is usually a greenish-blue color with a transparency to depths of 24 to 42m, and on clear days with the sun behind the observer at an altitude of more than 30°, it is possible to make out the bottom clearly at a depth of 29m. 1.21 Sunken reefs may not show discoloration when the sun is low, the sea is mirror like, or the sky is overcast. Close to shoal water, discoloration may not be apparent, but the flow of currents against the wind may cause a belt of rips.

Occasionally the presence of an atoll may be detected by reflection of the discolored water on the underside of clouds directly above it. At low tide, drying patches and rocks are more easily located. With a gentle or moderate breeze, breakers become visible, marking reefs awash. During the Northeast Monsoon, there are very few squalls and these are of short duration. The weather is comparatively dry and fair with prevailing winds from the NE. Little or no swell was observed during the Northeast Monsoon. When circumstances require, this is the best season for navigating in the region of Dangerous Ground. The onslaught of the Southwest Monsoon brings increasing cloud cover and squall activity. The wind velocity ranges from a dead calm to a strong breeze, becoming variable in direction.

As the Southwest Monsoon gathers strength, the sea becomes rough and the sky overcast. A fresh SW breeze, accompanied by a moderate to rough SW sea and heavy rains, prevails during the middle months of this monsoon. A moderate SW swell may arise that is usually greater in the W than in the E of Dangerous Ground. There are many days during the Southwest Monsoon when it is impossible to obtain celestial observations. Considerable atmospheric disturbance to long wave radio broadcasts may be experienced. The high humidity may cause some damage to radio apparatus.

Accurate information on ocean currents is not available in the region of Dangerous Ground.

Throughout the area of Dangerous Ground, vessels must rely heavily on seaman’s eye navigation and should not normally enter the area other than in daylight. Radar is of little value. The reefs rise abruptly from ocean depths, hence, soundings give no warning. An uncharted sounding of less than 1,100m should at once call for extreme caution. Difficulty may be experienced with celestial observations because of false horizons. In April or May, during fair weather, mirages are frequently encountered.

Vessels are cautioned not to enter the area other than in an emergency. Little advantage can be had in deviating from the recommended routes in the South China Sea to cross this area in view of the extensive dangers to be encountered. Due to the conflicting dates and accuracy of the various partial surveys of Dangerous Ground, certain shoals and reefs may appear on one chart, but not on another regardless of the scales involved. Charted depths and their locations may present considerable error in the lesser known regions of this area. Avoidance of Dangerous Ground is the mariner’s only assurance of safety.

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Page last modified: 04-04-2021 17:51:43 ZULU