Sansha I is the largest and most advanced vessel to supply the islets in the South China Sea, helping with efforts to defend what China claims is its "blue territory."
"The Sansha I can cover all of the South China Sea and reach more islets and reefs in the remote Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank) and Nansha (Spratly) islands," said Feng Wenhai, vice mayor of Sansha.
Sansha I, 122 meters long and 21 meters wide, has a displacement of 7,800 tons. The rollon-rolloff vessel can accommodate up to 456 people and carry 20 standard container trailers, cover 6,000 nautical miles without docking and has a top speed of 19 knots. It has a helicopter pad to help in rescue missions.
Sailing time between Wenchang on Hainan Island and Woody (Yongxing) Island, the seat of the Sansha government, will be reduced from 15 hours to about 10. Sansha I will make a round trip once a week. Before the new ship was commissioned, the supply vessel Qiongsha III was the only lifeline to the disputed island on behalf of the Chinese government which administers it. The ship will bring basic necessities like fresh water, food, diesel and building materials.
The capacity of Sansha I is four times that of Qiongsha III, which will continue to shuttle between Hainan and the islets in the South China Sea.
Sansha was established in July 2012 to further Beijing's claims to the more than 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in the Paracels, Macclesfield Bank and Spratly islands as well as the 2 million square kilometers of resource-rich waters surrounding them.
There is good reason for the attempt at claiming the area. The potential amount of catchable fish in the waters there adds up to 5 million tons.
Also, the sea's oil reserves are estimated to be as much as 30 billion tons, with gas reserves believed to total about 20 trillion cubic meters.
Since China has been scrambling to try and lay its claims to the area, Beijing has been building infrastructure on the islets and reefs there. Woody Island, the administrative seat of Sansha, is currently the largest population center and the number of residents, workers and visitors there is increasing steadily. The city relies heavily on supplies shipped from Hainan and the mainland, more than 300 kilometers away.
Home to about 1,000 residents, Woody Island has taken the shape of a small city after over two years of construction. There are roads, hotels, restaurants, bars, a coffeehouse and a hospital on the once desolated island. Four desalinators provide about 200 tons of water each day. A school is under construction.
Lured by favorable land and fiscal measures, over 60 companies have been convinced to operate there, covering finance, logistics, entertainment, agriculture and fisheries.
The islands and islets of the South China sea are disputed and claimed in part or completely by Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines.
The Sansha I leaves for Sansha from Wenchang, south China's Hainan Province, Jan. 5, 2015. The new ship set sail Monday from Hainan Island for Sansha City on its maiden voyage to supply islands in the vast South China Sea. The civil ship Sansha I is the largest and most advanced vessel yet to supply and commute between Hainan Island and islets in the South China Sea.