Beijing (AFP) - China has unveiled a massive ship described as a "magic island maker" that is Asia's largest dredging vessel, state media reported Saturday.
The ship, capable of building artificial islands of the sort the country has constructed in the contested South China Sea, was launched Friday at a port in eastern Jiangsu province, according to the state-owned China Daily.
The boat named Tian Kun Hao is capable of digging 6,000 cubic meters an hour, the equivalent of three standard swimming pools, the newspaper said.
It is a larger version of the one China used to dredge sand, mud and coral for transforming reefs and islets in the South China Sea into artificial islands capable of hosting military installations.
When testing of the ship is completed next June, it will be the most powerful such vessel in Asia, the paper noted, nicknaming it the "magic island maker".
Beijing's aggressive campaign of archipelago building in the South China Sea has been a point of contention with neighbouring countries that lay claim to parts of its waters.
China claims nearly all of the sea, through which $5 trillion in annual shipping trade passes and which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.
Its sweeping claims overlap with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.
China has previously said that it had completed its reclamation projects in an area of the sea known as the Spratlys.
But a US think tank, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said in August that Beijing has continued the work in a northern part of the waters around the Paracel islands.