Mammoth vessel: China’s new 98,000-ton mega ship

Guang Hua Kou (Cosco Heavy Transport).

Guang Hua Kou (Cosco Heavy Transport).

A new 98,000-ton heavy lift mega-ship, one of the largest vessels of its type in the world, represents a mammoth addition to China’s shipping industry.

Built for Cosco Heavy Transport, the semi-submersible Guang Hua Kou was launched April 28 at Guangzhou Shipyard.

A shipping line owned by the Chinese government, Cosco Heavy Transport specializes in handling heavy cargo. “The ‘Guang Hua Kou’ will be one of the largest vessels of its type when delivered end of this year,” explained the company, in a press release.

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Popular Science reports that the ship’s massive deck, which measures 693 feet by 223 feet, can submerge and then surface under large vessels such as damaged warships or oil rigs that need to be transported. The report notes that while the Guang Hua Kou is under civilian ownership, it is likely to be chartered by China’s military in peacetime or war.

Eric Wertheim, author of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, told that the massive ship is part of China’s efforts to establish a world class navy and maritime force that is capable of operating world wide. "People often forget that a powerful navy is able to project power far from its home waters, and to do that forces need a logistics capability to sustain their fleet and operations," he explained, via email.

"The Guang Hua Kou is merely one example of the growing fleet of support ships that China has been building in recent years to operate alongside their fleet of powerful modern warships," added Wertheim. "In many ways it appears that the Chinese are attempting to mirror the capabilities found among the major maritime forces of the world, including the U.S."

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The ship’s launch comes amid rising tensions between the U.S., China and other Southeast Asian nations claiming territory in the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier and five escort ships to the region in March.

In February China deployed fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island in the South China Sea, which is contested by Taiwan and Vietnam. China has also stoked tensions with the creation of artificial islands atop reefs in the Spratly chain of islands, hundreds of miles south of Woody Island.

In February U.S. Pacific Command Chief Adm. Harry Harris warned that China is militarizing the South China Sea.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

The Associated Press contributed to this report.