Other names: Dongsha Islands
Pratas atoll from space, January 1986.
|Location||South China Sea|
|Major islands||Pratas Island|
|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|
|County-level city |
The Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands and Tungsha Islands, are three atolls (Pratas Atoll, North Vereker Atoll and South Vereker Atoll) in the north of the South China Sea. They consist of one island, two coral reefs and two banks, and are located about 170 nautical miles (310 km; 200 mi) southeast of Hong Kong. The Republic of China (Taiwan) controls them and has declared part of them the Dongsha Atoll National Park. The People's Republic of China claims them as part of the Guangdong province.
Pratas Island is the only area above sea level. It has an area of about 240 hectares (590 acres), including 64 hectares (160 acres) of lagoon, and is the largest of the South China Sea Islands. It is the location of the Dongsha Airport.
The Pratas atoll is circular, with Pratas Island at the west of the atoll, and two large submerged coral reefs around the edge of most of the rest of the atoll.
The North Vereker Bank and South Vereker Bank are adjacent to each other about 40 nautical miles (74 km; 46 mi) to the northwest of the Pratas atoll at . North Vereker Bank rises to 11 metres (36 ft) below sea level, and South Vereker Bank to 57 metres (187 ft) below sea level. There are numerous oil wells to the west of the banks.
Dongsha is the pinyin romanization of the Mandarin Chinese name D?ngsh? Qúnd?o (t ?, s ?), meaning "Eastern Sandy Archipelago". The name distinguishes it from Xisha, the western archipelago, better known as the Paracel Islands.
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 wrecked in 1851 while going to the aid of another wrecked vessel; the crew were all saved.
In 1859-1861 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 (?) established a guano collecting station, destroyed the Dawang Joss House (), 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 Bluegills 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 while the survey ship lay at anchor. Collingwood explored the island on 30 April 1866.
The islands are administered by the Republic of China (Taiwan) with the postal code 817. In 2007, the Taiwanese government designated the Pratas atoll 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. Flora and fauna on and around Pratas Island includes:
North and South Vereker Banks are under water.
There are also some seamount formations nearby which are not part of the three atolls:
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.
In 1954 the ROC Government personnel stationed on Pratas erected a stone tablet on the southern side of the island, facing the ocean.
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.
The Minister for Internal Affairs of the ROC erected the South China Sea Defense stone tablet to declare Republic of China sovereignty in 1989.
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 Cijin District.
The ROC Government established the Triangulation Benchmark 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. They read '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. 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.
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 the island. In March 2016, a solar energy system built by the Coast Guard Administration went into operation. 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. There are no refueling facilities.
Two piers on the southeast shore allow for small watercraft to land.