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China unveils massive island-building vessel

By JESSE JOHNSON | Japan Times, Tokyo | Published: November 4, 2017

China has shown off its largest and most advanced dredging vessel – which it calls "a magic island-maker" – state-run media reported Saturday.

The dredger, the same kind of vessel used to create several China-held islets in the disputed South China Sea, was launched Friday at a port in eastern Jiangsu province, the China Daily newspaper said.

"With a full displacement of 17,000 metric tons, the 140-meter-long ship is capable of dredging as much as 6,000 cubic meters of sand or clay per hour from 35 meters below the water's surface, a capacity that means it could dig three standard swimming pools in an hour," the paper said.

Named the Tiankun, the vessel "is the best of its kind in Asia," according to the ship's designer, the Marine Design and Research Institute in Shanghai, and "can be used to conduct coastal/channel dredging and land reclamation operations even in bad weather at sea."

It is scheduled to be completed in June.

Beijing has faced criticism from neighbors and outside countries alike over its massive island-building activities in the contested South China Sea. As part of its bid to cement effective control of the area, it used the process to construct a number of islands and add to others from late 2013 to late 2016. Some of the islets were later fortified with military-grade airfields and weapons systems.

The project was later referred to as China's "great wall of sand," by U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris in 2015.

China has poured cash into its dredging industry over the past decade, with an estimated 200 vessels built since 2006, making it one of the world's biggest manufacturers of dredgers, according to media reports.

"The development of the Tiankun indicates that we have become one of the leaders in the marine engineering sector," the paper quoted Fei Long, deputy chief designer at the Marine Design and Research Institute, as saying.

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