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Secret Hydrographic Surveys in the Spratly Islands

By David Hancox & Victor Prescott
December 1999
ASEAN Academic Press
ISBN: 1-901919-08-0
219 pages, Illustrated, 5 3/4" x 8 3/4"
$79.50 Hardcover

From the beginning of modern western hydrographic exploration in the early 1800's, around what was then called the Archipelago of Reefs in the South China Sea, numerous reefs, banks, shoals and islands have been reported and recorded on navigational charts. However, doubts about some of these reported features began to arise after the first detailed investigation of the western, southern and eastern boundaries of what was then known as the Dangerous Ground of the South China Sea were completed by 1870. From the 1880's, a number of these features began to be qualified on British Admiralty charts with notation ED (Existence Doubtful) or PD (Position Doubtful), indicating that the feature's either existed or existed in the position recorded. Extensive secret surveys in the Dangerous Ground were conducted principally by British Admiralty and Japanese naval surveyors between 1926 and 1939 for territorial and strategic reasons. These conclusively proved that many of these reported features did not exist. However, despite the extensive revision of non-confidential British charts in 1954, many charts and maps of the Spratly Islands continue to show features that do not exist. This book reviews the history of national open and secret surveys in the Dangerous Ground and enumerates a number of features that do not exist, and probably never have existed except as a result of errors made by navigators in reporting those perceived dangers between 100 and 200 years ago.