Other names: Dongsha Islands
|Pratas Islands from space, January 1986.|
|Location||South China Sea|
|Major islands||Pratas Island
North Vereker Bank
South Vereker Bank
|Area||174 ha (429.96 acres) (land), 64 ha (158.15 acres) (lagoon)|
|Length||2.8 kilometres (1.7 mi)|
|Width||0.865 kilometres (0.537 mi)|
|Republic of China (Taiwan)|
|People's Republic of China|
The Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands, are an atoll in the north of the South China Sea consisting of three islets about 340 kilometers (211 mi) southeast of Hong Kong. Excluding their associated EEZ and territorial waters, the islets comprise about 240 ha (590 acres), including 64 ha (160 acres) of lagoon area. The People's Republic of China claims the islands, but the Republic of China (ROC) controls them and has declared them a national park. The main island of the group—Pratas Island—is the largest of the South China Sea Islands.
- 1 Name
- 2 History
- 3 Geography
- 4 Settlement
- 5 Government
- 6 Energy
- 7 Transportation
- 8 See also
- 9 Citations and references
- 10 External links
The English name of the islands derives from the Portuguese Ilhas das Pratas ("Silver Plate Islands"), which was given to the atoll in the 16th century owing to its round shape.
Dongsha is the pinyin romanization of the Chinese name Dōngshā Qúndǎo (t 東沙群島, s 东沙群岛), meaning "Eastern Sandy Archipelago". The name distinguishes it from Xisha, the western archipelago, better known as the Paracel Islands.
The Pratas Islands were first recorded by the Chinese over 1000 years ago in the book "Guangzhou Ji" (廣州記) written by Pei Yuan (裴淵) during the Jin Dynasty. Chinese fishermen fished in the sea around the Pratas by that time.
The East Indiaman Earl Talbot was wrecked on the Pratas Islands on or about 22 October 1800 with the loss of all aboard. At the time the islands were known to British sailors as the "Perates". Then the British screw sloop HMS Reynard was wrecked in 1851 while going to the aid of another wrecked vessel; the crew were all saved.
Between 1859 and 1861 there was a correspondence between the British Colonial Office and the Hong Kong colonial authorities about building a lighthouse on the main island on the atoll. Despite an offer by a British businessman in Xiamen to build it, it was decided that the cost was too great and the matter lapsed. It is clear from the correspondence that no one supposed the atoll to be a part of any known jurisdiction, which might have required negotiations to be conducted to ensure that construction would be legal.
One consequence of this initiative was that in 1858 the Royal Navy survey ship HMS Saracen completed the first detailed survey of the atoll, resulting in the Plan of the Pratas Reef and Island, J. Richards and others, April 1858 being published by the British Admiralty. On the resulting chart three positions are proposed for a lighthouse, on Pratas Island, on the north-east corner and on the southern edge near where HMS Reynard had stranded. In the north-east corner of the lagoon the chart notes "Anchorage for junks" indicating regular use by fishing and other small vessels taking shelter. The chart's rubric noted that the available safe draft for vessels entering was only 15 feet (4.6m), so restricted to only relatively small vessels.
In 1908-1909 a Japanese businessman named Nishizawa Yoshizi (西澤吉次) established a guano collecting station, destroyed the Dawang Joss House (大王庙), and dug up graves and poured the bone ashes of Chinese fishermen into the sea there, and renamed the atoll "Nishizawa Island", but after a diplomatic confrontation, Chinese sovereignty was re-established, and Nishizawa withdrew, after being compensated by the Guangdong provincial government, and after paying compensation for the destruction of a Chinese fishermen's shrine.
Japanese naval personnel occupied Pratas Island during World War II. The Japanese Navy used the island as a weather station and listening outpost until 29 May 1945 when a landing party consisting of Australian commandos and US naval personnel from the submarine USS Bluegill raised the US flag, declared the island a United States territory, and named it Bluegill Island. The landing party destroyed a radio tower, weather station, fuel and ammunition dumps, and several buildings. No lives were lost during this raid as all of the island's occupants fled just days prior to Bluegill's raid. The islands were later restored to the Republic of China's Guangdong Province.
The islands have been uninhabited, yet nations (including China and Japan) have claimed them to be their overseas territory. After World War II, the islands and the sea around them were mandated by United Nations.
In the Journal of Science (April 1867) there is a nine-page article entitled "The Natural History of Pratas Island in the China Sea" by Dr. Cuthbert Collingwood, the naturalist on board HMS Serpent. It describes what was observed, especially bird life, during a visit of two days[when?] while the survey ship lay at anchor.
The islands are currently administered by the Republic of China (Taiwan) with the postal code 817. In 2007, the Taiwan government designated the Pratas as the Dongsha Atoll National Park, the first marine national park in Taiwan.
The Pratas Islands are located 850 kilometres (530 miles) southwest of Taipei and 340 kilometres (210 miles) southeast of Hong Kong in the northern part of the South China Sea called the Pratas Terrace ( ).
Pratas Island is 2.8 km (1.7 mi) long and 0.865 km (0.537 mi) wide; it is the only feature of the group above sea level. The island is made up of coral atolls and reef flats. Brush, vines and bushes cover some of the island - the rest is white sand.
North and South Vereker Banks are under water.
Other flora and fauna on and around Pratas Island include:
- Silver silk tree
- Strawberry tung tree
- Coconut tree
- Little terns
- Gullbilled terns
- Rock lobsters
There are also some seamount formations nearby which are not part of the main island:
- Jianfeng Seamount (尖峰海山)
- Maojia Seamount (芼架海山)
- Beipo Seamount (北波海山)
As a disputed island with no permanent inhabitants, it is visited largely by fishermen, military personnel and researchers. Amateur radio operators participating in the DXCC and Islands on the air awards programs also visit occasionally.
Pratas Island landmark
An obelisk erected after 1946.
Pratas Island stone tablet
In 1954 the ROC Government personnel stationed on Pratas erected a stone tablet on the southern side of the island, facing the ocean.
Da Wang temple
The Da Wang temple is dedicated to 'Kuang Kang' and 'The South China Sea Goddess' - Mazu. It is said[by whom?] that the statue of Guan Gong came to Pratas Island on a canoe in 1948. The soldiers on Pratas Island built a temple to worship her in 1975. Today,[when?] the canoe is still kept in the temple. The joss sticks and candles are donated by soldiers, as was the golden sign hung in front of the statue. There is an 'Ever Green' pavilion in front of the temple which was also built by the soldiers. It is the most verdant place on the island.
Symbol of national sovereignty
The Minister for Internal Affairs of the ROC erected the South China Sea Defense stone tablet to declare Republic of China sovereignty in 1989.
Measuring memorial stone tablet
In July 1991 the Kaohsiung City Government erected the Pratas Island measuring memorial stone tablet as a symbol that Pratas Island falls within the jurisdiction of Kaohsiung City. Within Kaohsiung, the islands belong to Qijin District.
Triangulation bench mark
The ROC Government established this spot as the triangulation point for Pratas Island in December 1991. There are words on each side of the base of the triangulation point stone tablet. It reads 'The Pratas Triangulation Point' on the front, and 'Longitude: 116o 43" 42.5601'E, Latitude: 20o 42' 6.2415'N, Height: 2.4875 meters.' The words 'Defend the South China Sea', written by the commander, Lo Ben Li, were also engraved on the stone tablet. As the National Tsing Hua University webpage about the island states, "In addition to making it more convenient to survey and draw navigational maps, and to construct and develop facilities on the island, the establishment of the triangulation point is also the basis of our sovereign rights."
The library is located on one side of the main plaza, and is the center for soldiers to obtain spiritual nourishment. The library contains more than two thousand books.
The ROC area code for Pratas is 817, and the military post office is Office No. 67. The Ministry of Transportation and Communications issued the 'South China Sea Islands Map Stamps' in 1996, as a set of two stamps. The inscription 'South China Sea Defense' from the national stone tablet on Pratas Island was printed on the five-dollar stamp, and the 'Defend the South China Sea' inscription from the national stone tablet on Taiping Island was printed on the seventeen-dollar stamp. The background was the south China coastline, Taiwan and Hainan Island with the blue sky and sea. This was the first time that the ROC had issued stamps with the theme of the South China Sea.
Fishermen's service station
In 1987 the military and civilian occupants built the 'Pratas Fishermen's Service Station'. The station was built in traditional Chinese courtyard house style, and provides convenient services for fishermen and boats in the South China Sea, insuring the fishermen's safety and upholding ROC sovereignty. The services provided include lodging, medical rescue, entertainment and supply. The station also provides lodging for the scientists who come to conduct research on the island.
Diesel-fueled generators are used to power up the island. In March 2016, solar energy system built by the Coast Guard Administration went into operation to add to the generation mix of power for the island. The system covers an area of 310.6 m2 and produces 53,200 kWh of electricity each year.
The Dongsha Island Airport features a runway located on the north end of Pratas Island with a small airport terminal at the eastern end. The airport is used by the ROC military. A main shack and subordinate shack are located on the southeast end of the island. Two piers on the southeast shore allow for small watercraft to land.
Citations and references
- Pratas Islands, vm.nthu.edu.tw
- Pratas Island, www.fas.org
- Note that Woody Island in the Paracel Islands has a land area of 210 ha, which is greater than Pratas Island's 240-64=176 ha. Also, the PRC's land reclamation activities during 2014 & 2015 have created an "island" of ~230 ha at Fiery Cross Reef.
- "HMS Reynard". William Loney website. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
- [UK National Archives, CO 129/75, pp.309-316]
- [Biblioteca Digital Hispanica, http://bdh.bne.es/bnesearch/detalle/bdh0000070710]
- CCVIC News: "挖我渔民祖坟，并将该岛改名为“西泽岛”。我渔民梁盛等向政府控诉西泽罪行"[dead link]
- 地方志[dead link]：“驱逐中国渔民,毁渔船,掘渔民祖坟百余座,拆渔民建的大王庙和兄弟所”
- Rhoads (1975), pp.140-141.
- ISSUU - SS-242_BLUEGILL_Part2 by richard pekelney[dead link]
- Feuer (2005), pp.78-84.
- Sovereignty over the Spratly Islands - The China Post 22 June 2009
- - US Naval source - accessed 20 January 2016.
- "東沙環礁國家公園". 臺灣國家公園. 內政部營建署. 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- From Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University's "Discovering the South China Sea" article. http://vm.nthu.edu.tw/southsea/english.travel3_3.htm
- Feuer, A.B. (2005) Australian Commandos: Their Secret War Against the Japanese in World War II. (Stackpole Books). ISBN 978-0811732949
- Rhoads, Edward (1975) China's Republican Revolution: the case of Kwangtung, 1895-1913 (Harvard University Press).
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