China has commissioned a new cruise ship to take tourists to islands claimed by Vietnam in the disputed South China Sea, reinforcing its claim over the area, reports Reuters.
The ship called Changle Gongzhu, or Changle Princess, sailed from Sanya with 308 passengers on board. Its first voyage will last four days and three nights, said an official with Hainan Strait Shipping, owner of the vessel.
According to state-run Xinhua news agency the ship began its maiden voyage to the Paracel Islands, known as Xisha in Chinese, in the South China Sea
The Paracel Islands, in the South China Sea where
Beijing is locked in maritime disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia
and Taiwan, is also claimed by Vietnam. China lays claim to 90% of the resource rich South China Sea, through which a third of the world's maritime traffic passes.
Beijing had earlier said that it plans to build villas, shops and hotels on the islands. It also nurses ambitions to build Maldives-style resorts around South China Sea. It is not clear if foreigners will be permitted to visit.