China eyes new cruise connection to disputed Paracel islands

By ,   July 30, 2015 ,   Cruise Industry

Chinese authorities are planning to start a 2nd cruise ship link to the Paracels - disputed islands located in South China Sea, in a move that might irk Vietnam, also claiming the islets.

In 2013 China began trial sailings on Coconut Princess from the southern island province of Hainan. More than 10,000 vacationers have taken the cruise so far, according to the official China Daily.

A second ship is planned to operate before the end of 2015. Officials hope that more isles could be opened up for tourist visits, including Woody Island, the location of the Chinese government seat for Paracels' administering. 

However, poor facilities and weather could hamper tourism efforts as the Paracel Islands (called "Xisha" in Chinese, "Hoàng Sa" in Vietnamese) are often hit by strong winds and typhoons. According to Xie Zanliang, head of a government company promoting cruises to the Paracels, the capacity of the isles to handle tourists had to be taken into account as cruise ships could not dock on some and the travelers had to be brought ashore by smaller vessels.

The deployment of a Chinese oil rig close to the Paracels in 2014 sparked a standoff with anti-Chinese riots.

Taiwan also claims the Paracel Islands. China claims 90% of South China Sea, which is potentially energy-rich. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam lay claims to parts of the sea. $5 trillion of trade per year passes through South China Sea.

Last month Vietnam said it would offer voyages to disputed Spratly archipelago, lying south of the Paracels. The move sparked anger from China.

All countries with rival claims encouraged a growing civilian presence on the disputed islands.