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Postponed DXpedition to Disputed Spratlys Reset for March


[UPDATED: 2018-02-23 @ 1327 UTC] An international Amateur Radio team that postponed a December 2017 DXpedition to the disputed Spratly Islands now plans to be on the air in early March from Layang Layang Island — also known as Swallow Reef — under Malaysian call sign 9M0W, with CW, SSB, and digital operation on 160 through 6 meters. The team, headed by Hrane Milosevic, YT1AD, had to change its plans because the resort on Layang Layang Island, from which the DXpedition will operate, was closed from December until February. In addition to its call sign, the 9M0W team has a landing permit from the Malaysian government. While the Royal Malaysian Navy maintains a presence on the reef, ownership of the Spratlys has been asserted by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines — in addition to Malaysia. The Spratlys are #56 on Club Log’s DXCC Most-Wanted List.

A group of islands and associated “maritime features” (reefs, banks, cays, etc.) of economic and strategic importance, the Spratlys are just part of ongoing territorial disputes throughout the South China Sea, characterized by diplomatic stalemate and the employment of military pressure — including the occupation of disputed territory — to advance territorial claims. The Spratlys and Scarborough Reef, another rare DXCC entity, have caught the attention of news media in recent years, owing to the PRC’s increasingly vocal objection to the presence of fishing vessels as well as that of American naval vessels transiting the area’s busy trade routes in order to assert the right to freedom of navigation within what the US considers international waters.

The approximately 15-acre Layang Layang Island includes some land “reclaimed” from the ocean floor. The PRC has also been involved in an ambitious program of artificially expanding the land mass of South China Sea islands. In 2014, China commenced dredging activities within the Spratlys and, the following year, satellite images showed that China was building an airfield on Fiery Cross Reef, while continuing land reclamation at other sites in the region.

The most recent DXpeditions from the Spratlys took place in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, the DX0P DXpedition operated in the spring of that year from Thitu Island (called Pag-asa in Tagalog), using a license issued by the Philippines. The DX0P operation took place just a few years after the planned DX0DX DXpedition to the Spratlys was “permanently cancelled” in 2011 without explanation after being pushed back at least twice. The next year, James Brooks, 9V1YC, and Chris Burger, ZS6EZ, operated as 9M0Z, granted by Malaysia, from Layang Layang Island for 6 days in May of that year, logging 11,000 contacts.

A 2016 ruling from an international tribunal discounted the PRC’s claims with respect to the Spratlys and Scarborough Reef. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Netherlands, ruled in favor of the Philippines in a dispute with the PRC over Scarborough Reef — also known as Scarborough Shoal. The tribunal said that although navigators and fishermen from China and other states have historically made use of South China Sea Islands, there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources.

According to the tribunal, the PRC had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights and had caused “severe harm to the coral reef environment” by building artificial islands and an air strip. The PRC refused to take part in the arbitration and said it would not be bound by the tribunal’s ruling. The tribunal made clear that its ruling did not address issues of territorial sovereignty.




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