Maiden run for carrier
Updated: 2011-08-11 07:13
By Zhao Lei and Zhang Xiaomin (China Daily)
This undated file photo shows China's first aircraft carrier at its shipyard in Dalian city, Liaoning province. The revamped Soviet ship started its sea trials on Wednesday. [Photo/Xinhua]
Ship departs for sea trials amid widespread interest
DALIAN, Liaoning - China's first aircraft carrier, refitted from a Soviet-era vessel, began sea trials on Wednesday.
The carrier left its dock in Dalian on Wednesday morning to start the maiden run, according to a flash released by the Xinhua News Agency at 6:26 am.
In a later news brief, Xinhua quoted unidentified military sources as saying that the sea trials were in line with the vessel's refitting schedule and will not take a long time.
After returning from the trials, the aircraft carrier will continue its refit and test work, according to the sources.
The carrier, about 300 meters long, ploughed through fog and sounded its horn three times as it left the dock, Xinhua said on its military news micro blog on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, shortly after it released the flash.
Xinhua said that the new carrier posed no threat to any country.
"Building a strong navy that is commensurate with China's rising status is a necessary step and an inevitable choice for the country to safeguard its increasingly globalized national interests," it said.
"Even if China developed an aircraft carrier with full combat capacity in the future, it will not pose any threat to other countries."
None of the reports gave the exact time of the carrier's departure. A Xinhua reporter, allegedly aboard, wrote on her micro blog at 5:09 am these words - "dawn, thin fog, birds twittering, going eastward".
The message led many netizens to believe this was the time of the carrier's departure.
However, some Dalian residents, who claimed to be witnesses to the historic event, said that the ship departed much earlier.
"At around 3 am the aircraft carrier, towed by four tugboats, began to slowly leave the shipyard," a Dalian resident surnamed Wang, who works on a barge near the shipyard, told China Daily.
His account was echoed by a security guard working at a nearby IKEA store.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he saw a large ship with the number 88 on its hull leaving the port before the carrier departed.
But these reports could not be officially confirmed.
Authorities have yet to release detailed information on the sea trials, which have long been a hot topic among military enthusiasts and the media.
Some military enthusiasts found possible clues of the maiden run in information released by local maritime authorities.
The Liaoning provincial maritime safety administration published a notice on Tuesday afternoon restricting navigation in waters off the Dalian coast from Aug 10 to 6 pm, Aug 14. The forbidden area, 13.25 nautical miles wide and 22 nautical miles long, is in the northern Yellow Sea and Liaodong Bay.
But the exact timeframe of the carrier's sea trials and its whereabouts remain unclear.
Military enthusiasts and tourists had flocked to Dalian days earlier in the hope of witnessing the event.
Tan Changbin, a tourist from Sichuan province, said that an aircraft carrier in the navy's fleet will better serve the country's interests.
"It would be interesting if I could see it with my own eyes," he said.
Xu Jian, a retired naval officer, said that China's rising international status implies that it deserves to have its own aircraft carrier.
"If other countries such as India and Thailand - let alone the US and Russia - have aircraft carriers, why can't China?" he said.
Days before the trials, local police were strictly monitoring and controlling the periphery of the shipyard and points that offered a clear view of the ship, residents said.
The long-awaited debut of the vessel was welcomed by congratulatory messages from China's Internet users who regularly put photos and information of the carrier on Chinese military websites and forums.
"I am extremely happy! The era of the aircraft carrier for the great People's Republic of China has come," said a netizen who goes under the name of gonebywind at fyjs.cn, a renowned online military website.
Some enthusiasts also discussed a possible name, hull number as well as potential candidates to captain the vessel, named Varyag in the Soviet era.
An earlier report by the Beijing-based International Herald Leader speculated that the ship will be named after a distinguished person in Chinese history and its hull number is supposed to be 83.
The report suggested that this speculation was based on remarks by Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, at a July 27 news conference.
Geng disclosed at that conference that a program was under way of "making use of an obsolete aircraft carrier" and refitting it "for scientific research and training purposes".
According to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's regulations, ships designated for the purposes of research or training will display a hull number starting with the number 8 and, according to tradition, will be named after a prominent ancient admiral.
The report also claimed that the vessel will be assigned to the Dalian Naval Academy and will be under the command of Bai Yaoping, deputy head of the academy and a star serviceman in China.
"I think that the maiden sea trials will focus on testing the hull, power and electrical systems," a senior editor of a Chinese military magazine, who refused to be identified, told China Daily on Wednesday.
"It will take at least one to two years for the ship to undergo a series of tests before it is handed over to the navy for active service," he said, adding pilots who are to serve on the vessel will also need three to five years for training on landing planes on the carrier's deck.
Yin Zhuo, a retired Chinese navy rear admiral, told China Central Television that China intended to build an air carrier group, but the task will be long and difficult.
"It will take at least 10 years," he said.
Military authorities reached by China Daily on Wednesday declined to comment on the sea trials.
Xinhua and Reuters contributed to this story.
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