BEIJING • China has unveiled a massive ship described as a "magic island maker" that is Asia's largest dredging vessel, state media reported yesterday.
The ship, capable of building artificial islands of the sort the country has constructed in the contested South China Sea, was launched last Friday at a port in eastern Jiangsu province, according to China Daily.
Named Tian Kun Hao, the ship is capable of digging 6,000 cubic m an hour, the equivalent of three standard swimming pools, the newspaper said.
It is a larger version of the one China used to dredge sand, mud and coral for transforming reefs and islets in the South China Sea into artificial islands capable of hosting military installations.
When testing of the ship is completed next June, it will be the most powerful such vessel in Asia, China Daily noted, nicknaming it the "magic island maker".
Beijing's aggressive campaign of archipelago building in the South China Sea has been a point of contention with neighbouring countries that also lay claim to parts of its waters.
China claims nearly all of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits and through which US$5 trillion (S$6.8 trillion) in annual shipping trade passes. Its sweeping claims overlap with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.
China has previously said it had completed its reclamation projects in an area of the sea known as the Spratlys. But US think-tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said in August that Beijing has continued the work in a northern part of the waters around the Paracel Islands.