DX0DX Spratly DXpedition “Permanently Cancelled”


After numerous setbacks, Chris Dimitrijevic, VK3FY, announced on the DX0DX website that the planned 2012 DX0DX DXpedition to the Spratly Islands has been “permanently cancelled.” No explanation was given for the cancellation and Dimitrijevic did not respond to e-mails from the ARRL. Spratly currently sits at #32 on DX Magazine’s “Most Wanted” List.

The DX0DX Spratly DXpedition had been pushed back at least twice. It was first supposed to happen in January 2011, and then it was delayed until April. According to Dimitrijevic, the postponement to April 2011 was “due to circumstances beyond the control of the DX0DX Team and in the best interests of the Team of Operators.” On April 10, 2011, Dimitrijevic sent out a notice that said that 10 of the original 37 operators of the planned 2011 DX0DX DXpedition indicated that they will return in April 2012, but that will not be happening.

In April 2012, however, another group is planning a DXpedition to the Spratly Islands. According to the September 4 edition of the Ohio/Penn DX Association’s bulletin, members of the Malaysian Amateur Radio Transmitter Society (MARTS) are planning a “2012 Project” to activate Pulau Layang Layang (AS-051) in the Spratlys during the first two weeks of the month. The team leader is C.L. Neoh, 9M2CLN, with support by Tack Kumagai, JE1CKA, and the 9M4SDX Team. The DXpedition coordinator is Tex Izumo, 9M2TO. MARTS is Malaysia’s IARU Member-Society.

The Spratlys

The Spratlys are a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea between Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Brunei. They comprise less than 4 square kilometers of land area, spread out over more than 425,000 square kilometers of sea.

Small, remote islands such as the Spratlys have little economic value in themselves, but are important in establishing international boundaries. There are rich fishing grounds and geological surveys indicate the area may contain significant oil and gas reserves. As such, many countries claim the islands for their own, including the Philippines, Vietnam, the People’s Republic of China and Republic of China (Taiwan). Additionally, Brunei claims Louisa Reef, as well as an Exclusive Economic Zone around that and neighboring reefs. Malaysia claims portions of the state of Sabah, as does the Philippines.

On March 31, 1979, just three days after departing Brunei, North Borneo -- six hams -- Harry Meade, VK2BJL; Stew Woodward, K4SMX; Bill Poellmitz, K1MM; John Ackley, KP2A, Austin Regal, N4WW, and Bob Schenck, N2OO -- were on the boat Banyandah that would take them to the Spratlys. The boat was captained by the husband-wife team of Jack and Judith Binder. In the February 1998 issue of QST, Schenck recounted their trip: “We all cheered when we first spotted Amboyna Cay in the distance. It first appeared as a small white speck on the horizon. It was sheer torture in slow motion as we slowly crept closer. As we watched, our mood went from joy, to confusion, to despair, to hope, to sheer horror!”

When the boat was about one mile from the island, they saw that there were structures on the beach. Since the aerial photographs from only months before showed no structures and no people, the hams and crew were perplexed. “We saw no flag or other indication as to what country was represented on the island,” Schenck wrote. “Could they be Filipino fishermen?”

Binder wrote in his ship’s log that as the boat got closer to the island, “three distinct groups of people visible on that tiny mound of sand, a group at each end with a smaller number on the top. The ‘top’ hardly more than two meters above the sea. The smaller centralized group has begun signaling us with semaphore flags.”

At that point, Jack Binder and Woodward decided to go to the island in the dinghy and check things out. “Suddenly the person sending the semaphore threw down his flags,” Schenck recalled. “Within seconds, we heard four loud canon blasts from the island! The shells missed us by a wide margin, but their message was clear -- we were not welcome.” Binder wrote in his log that as they began their final approach to the island, one operator was at the radio scanning the bands and listening for a possible contact with the island. They were then shot at by the people on the island and got out of the area quickly. “We quickly put the 2 knot diesel into gear, put up the sails and steered away from Amboyna Cay,” said Schenck.

The boat returned to Brunei. Regal went back to the States, but Ackley and Schenck stayed in Brunei while the other three amateurs went back out in search of an island; Ackley and Schenck agreed to maintain a backup operation as VS5KV and VS5OO. Eventually, Binder assisted Mead, Woodward and Poellmitz get to what he called “a tiny scrap of sand.” The reef was Barque Canada Reef, a 30 foot wide sand cay that was only a foot or two above water at high tide. Here the three amateurs set up what became 1S1DX, making nearly 14,000 QSOs

In 1982, a Singapore yacht operated by the owner and his wife were carrying four German hams on a DXpedition to Amboyna Cay in the Spratlys. The boat was fired upon by Vietnamese forces. Diethelm Mueller, DJ4EI, was hit by an artillery round and fell overboard as the yacht caught fire. The rest of the party drifted for 11 days on debris, but Gero Band, DJ3NG, passed away from thirst the day before the group was rescued by a passing Japanese freighter and taken to Hong Kong.  -- Thanks to Bob Schenck, N2OO, and Captain Jack Binder for some information