CHINA has deployed anew clam-harvesting fleets to the South China Sea in the last six months, including in Scarborough Shoal, according to American-based think-tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

“These fleets, which typically include dozens of small fishing vessels accompanied by a handful of larger ‘motherships,’ destroy vast swaths of coral reef in order to extract endangered giant clams,” said AMTI in its latest report based on satellite imagery.

AMTI said that there was decrease of activities by the “clam-harvesting” boats since 2016 until late 2018. From 2012 to 2015, Chinese clam harvesters severely damaged or destroyed at least 28 reefs across the South China Sea.

AMTI also said since late 2018, the fleets, as shown by satellite imagery, have been operating at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and throughout the Paracels, including at Bombay Reef.

“The clam boats have also returned to Scarborough Shoal, which is a particularly sensitive issue in Sino-Philippine relations. The reef was already extensively damaged by the earlier phase of clam harvesting up to 2016.,” the report said.

Although it has not found clear evidence of new clam harvesting in the Spratly Islands, AMTI noted that a mothership and a number of small boats were present at nearby Lankiam Cay on April 7.

“The mothership was about 20 meters long while those seen at Bombay Reef are typically closer to 30 meters, but the smaller boats are roughly the same dimensions,” said AMTI.

In Malacañang, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said on Tuesday he will no longer issue statements regarding foreign affairs issues because he has an “implied agreement” with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. that his department will be the one to make a position on the matter.

“I’ll leave it to Secretary [Locsin]. We had an agreement on that. That he will make a position on the matter….We call it courtesy to the department heads,” Mr. Panelo said in part. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras and Arjay L. Balinbin