Beijing: China has launched its largest and "most advanced" patrol vessel as part of its efforts to assert "marine sovereignty" amid escalating disputes with neighbouring countries over a host of islands in the South China Sea.
The new vessels Haixun 01 was launched from Wuhan, Hubei province, last weekend.
The new flagship is the first patrol vessel capable of completing both maritime surveillance and rescue missions, the Shanghai Maritime Bureau (SMB), which will manage the ship said.
"It is part of stepped up efforts by China to protect its marine sovereignty and enhance rescue efficiency on its coastal waters," state-run China Daily reported on Monday.
The new vessel would cruise in "China`s territorial waters", searching and saving lives at sea, investigating maritime disputes, monitoring oil spills and conducting emergency disposals, SMB said in a statement.
The 5,418-ton ship can also tow ships and put out fires on other boats. It can sail at speed of 37 km per hour, and has a maximum sailing distance of 18,520 km without refueling.
Helicopters can take off and land on platforms on board to get refuelled or execute life-saving and searching tasks, The ship can provide accommodation to as many as 200 people in sea accidents.
In the last few weeks China has taken certain decisive steps like establishing a new city called Sansha on Yongxing Island, part of which also claimed by Vietnam.
Beijing also established a military garrison there, sending a strong signal about its intention to assert its claims over the islands.
China claims control over most of the South China Sea, portions of which are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and other neighbours.
"The new move sent a strong signal to the outside world that China is attempting to conduct more surveillance in its own waters," Ni Lexiong, an expert on maritime policy at Shanghai University said.
The move shows China is taking action to protect its legal rights as the number of sea disputes with other countries has surged recently, he said.
"In the past, the patrol fleet, ocean inspection fleet and fishery administration fleet have been mainly comprised of old vessels decommissioned from the navy, but now we see more and more brand-new advanced ships being made and put into use," he said.
China has about 300 marine surveillance ships, including 30 ships weighing more than 1,000 tons, and 10 planes, including four helicopters, to monitor marine affairs.
Officials of China Marine Surveillance, the country`s marine supervisory administration, said China is expected to build 36 inspection ships to join the surveillance fleet by 2013.