China makes Asia’s most powerful automated island maker

China has built a 140-meter-long, 28-meter-wide dregger, the Tian Kun Hao, which has described by some local media as “Asia’s most powerful island maker”.

Given Beijing’s earlier island-building activities in the South China Sea, such a description could easily cause alarm among regional neighbors, especially as the new vessel will replace the Tian Jing Hao – which was used extensively for such purposes – as Asia’s largest.

It is expected to go into service next summer.

It has a deck the size of nine basketball courts, it is capable of dredging up to 6,000 cubic meters an hour and can dig as deep as 35 meters under the sea floor. It also has an advanced global positioning system and thanks to an automatic control system can be operated without any crew. The previous largest Chinese dregger could dig 4500 cubic meters per hour.

Tian Kun can blast through seabed rocks, suck up sand, and pump material through a pipeline over a distance of up to 15km, allowing it to dredge in one spot and refill in another without requiring landfill material to be transported from elsewhere. That gives it the unique edge to reclaim land at a faster speed and greater efficiency than conventional operations.

China has invested heavily in its dredging industry over the past decade, with an estimated 200 vessels built since 2006. It is now one of the world’s biggest dredger manufacturers and its machines have been used extensively in the country’s island-building projects.

In August, 2017, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said that China was still building artificial islands according to satellite evidence.

China’s own reclamation work did not end in mid-2015 with the completion of its artificial islands in the Spratlys. Beijing continues to reclaim land farther north, in the Paracel Islands.

Since 2013, China has engaged in unprecedented and ecologically devastating dredging and island-building at all seven of the islets and reefs it occupies in the Spratly Islands. To-date, Beijing has created more than 3,200 acres of new land.

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