On Jan. 5, the Sansha 1 began its maiden voyage from Wenchang on Hainan island to Woody (Yongxing) island, the administrative center of the recently established Sansha prefecture, set up to cover the contested territories of the Paracels, Spratlys and Macclesfield Bank. The Sansha 1 has a tonnage of 7,800 and is capable of carrying 456 passengers or a payload of 2,400 tons.
The boat has a platform to operate helicopters and can carry most ground combat equipment, including PLA Type 99 main battle tanks and amphibious assault vehicles. The exact number of tanks the ship can carry is not known.
Rear Admiral Li Jie of the PLA Navy said the Sansha 1 could potentially transport a battalion of infantry and light equipment. Vietnam and the Philippines do not have the ability to design and construct large supply ships, Li Jie said, though they have the advantage of being closer to the disputed territories.
By purchasing Nosorog-class landing ships from Moscow, the People's Navy of Vietnam could still pose a considerable threat to Chinese operations, Li said.
The Sansha I leaves for Sansha from Wenchang, south China's Hainan province, Jan 5, 2015. 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.