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China to conduct sea trials for its first ultra-deepwater drilling ship

BEIJING – China will on Friday conduct sea trials for its first ocean research drilling vessel, capable of drilling at depths of more than 10,000 meters (32,800 feet), a key step towards beefing up the country’s deep-sea oil and gas exploration capabilities.

It is China’s first vessel capable of ultra-deepwater research and drilling, Chinese state media reported on Monday. It can travel 15,000 nautical miles (27,780 kilometers) and operate for 120 consecutive days without returning to port. It can also drill as deep as 11,000 meters below sea level.

The vessel Mengxiang, which means “dream” in Chinese, can navigate in any sea in any part of the world, according to state media.

No details were given on the location of the sea trials.

The Mengxiang sea trials came as tensions rose in the resource-rich South China Sea and after Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said over the weekend that his country could start new energy exploration projects in the disputed waterway.

China and the Philippines have traded accusations over repeated ship encounters in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

In March, China and the Philippines resumed discussions about jointly exploring oil and gas resources in the South China Sea, which has an average depth of more than 1,200 meters (3,900 feet). But Marcos said on Saturday that “very little progress” has been made. — Reuters

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