Asia’s largest, most advanced cutter suction dredge (CSD) was launched in early November 2017 in the city of Qidong, in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu. The dredge, built for China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC), was designed by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Guangzhou Wenchong Shipyard and the China Merchants Industry. The self-propelled CSD Tian Kun Hao is named after an enormous legendary fish, which can turn into a mythical bird. The vessel was constructed by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries and is 140 meters (approx. 460 feet) long, with a width of 27.8 meters (912 feet) and can operate in waters ranging from 6 to 35 meters (20 to 115 feet). Reportedly it can dredge 6,000 cubic meters (7848 cubic yards) of sand per hour.
According to officials at CCC Tianjin Dredging Group, the vessel is China’s first independently developed heavy-duty self-propelled cutter suction dredge. The new cutter suction dredge is larger and has greater capability than the Tian Jing Hao which was formerly the largest cutter suction dredge in Asia. The CSD Tian Kun Hao has begun sea trials and should be operational in the first half of 2018.
The political implications of the vessel are enormous. The new vessel has been described by its architects as the “magical island-maker.” Considering that since late in 2013, China has been building artificial islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea as a way of claiming its sea rights, this new vessel could cause an increase in tensions. The South China Sea is an over one million square mile strategic body of water with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Vietnam all claiming rights to the area. In addition, China has in recent years been an ever-growing presence in the international dredging market and has won many contracts abroad in Africa and the Middle East.