In 1939, Truong Sa archipelago included 14 coral islets. These islets are mostly inhabited by countless seabirds. According to a Chinese 1986 source, the Spratly Islands consist of 14 islands or islets, 6 banks, 113 submerged reefs, 35 underwater banks, 21 underwater shoals.
Islands in Truong Sa archipelago
About Truong Sa, the area northeast of the Spratlys is known to mariners as Dangerous Ground and is characterised by its many low islands, sunken reefs, and degraded sunken atolls with coral often rising abruptly from ocean depths greater than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) – all of which makes the area dangerous for navigation.
The 14 islands are all of the same nature. They are cays (or keys); sand islands formed on old degraded and submerged coral reefs.
The Spratly Islands contain almost no significant arable land, have no indigenous inhabitants, and very few of the islands have a permanent drinkable water supply.
All of the 14 islands are occupied; by the Philippines (7 islands, Thitu Island, West York Island, Northeast Cay, Nanshan Island, Loaita Island, Flat Island, Lankiam Cay and 3 reefs), Taiwan (RoC) (1 island Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba Island and 1 reef) and Vietnam (6 islands, Spratly Island, Southwest Cay, Sin Cowe Island, Sand Cay, Namyit Island, Amboyna Cay, 16 reefs and 6 banks).
Natural resources include fish and guano, as well as the possible potential of oil and natural gas reserves. Economic activity has included commercial fishing, shipping, guano mining, and more recently, tourism. The Spratlys are located near several primary shipping lanes.
In 1987, the People’s Republic of China installed a small military structure on Fiery Cross Reef on the pretext to build an oceanic observation station and install a tide gauge for the Global Sea Level Observing System. After a deadly skirmish with the Vietnamese Navy, China installed some military structures on more reefs in the vicinity of the Philippines and Vietnamese occupied islands and this had led to escalating tensions between these countries and China over the status and “ownership” of reefs.
The 14 islands and cays (a sandy island), listed in descending order of area, are:
Taiping Island, Thitu Island, West York Island, Spratly Island, Northeast Cay, Southwest Cay, Sin Cowe Island, Nanshan Island, Sand Cay, Loaita Island, Namyit Island, Amboyna Cay, Flat Island, Lankiam Cay.