'1916 court case shows Manila owned shoal'

A 1916 Philippines Supreme Court decision over a shipwreck on Scarborough Shoal bolsters Manila's territorial claim to the reef, which China also claims, a maritime law expert says.

Dr Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines College of Law yesterday said his research 'is clear evidence that we were exercising jurisdiction over the shoal and incidents on it during the American colonial period' in the Philippines.

Relations between both countries have been strained because both claim sovereignty over the shoal, which the Chinese call Huangyan Island and Filipinos Panatag Shoal.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including the shoal. The Philippines says the shoal, a horseshoe-shaped outcrop, is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Batongbacal also questioned Beijing's claim that it first discovered the shoal, based on a 1279 map made during the Yuan dynasty.

'At that time, China was part of the great Mongol empire. Going by the implied logic, Huangyan Island should rightfully belong to Mongolia,' Batongbacal said.

The reef was widely referred to as Scarborough after a British tea trade ship of that name sank there in the late 1800s.

On Tuesday Batongbacal presented a map dating back to the Yuan dynasty at a public lecture on the Philippines' maritime interests.

'This Yuan dynasty map cannot even properly place the Luzon and Mindanao islands,' he said. China, he noted, had yet to make public its 1279 map.

In contrast, there were maps which date back to the 1700s that show the shoal as part of the Philippines, he said.

Furthermore, a 1916 court case in Manila pre-dated China's official inclusion of the shoal as part of what it calls the Zhongsha Islands in 1935, Batongbacal said.

The 1916 case involved S.S. Nippon, a Swedish cargo ship which ran aground on the shoal on May 8, 1913, as it sailed from Manila to Singapore.

A steamship called Manchuria was first to reach the ship and rescued the Nippon's captain and the remaining crew members. They were taken to Hong Kong, where the captain said he would arrange for the ship and cargo to be salvaged.

News of the shipwreck prompted Erlanger & Galinger, a salvage operator, to sail to the ship, offload all the cargo on board, tow the ship back to Manila and sell the salvaged goods.

Erlanger & Galinger later brought a lawsuit against the cargo insurers and the ship owner after it felt it did not get enough compensation for its 'perilous' service.

Batongbacal said that if, as China claims, it had jurisdiction over Scarborough Shoal even then, 'China would have had one agency responsible for whatever happens there, including shipwrecks'.

'This case is proof we are the ones responsible when it comes to shipwrecks on Scarborough,' he said.