China is planning to base an advanced rescue ship in the South China Sea, where authorities are bolstering territorial claims by developing a civilian presence – including tourism. The rescue ship, which will carry drones and underwater robots, is to be deployed in the second half of the year in the disputed Spratly Islands, according to the ship’s political commissar Chen Xingguang. The vessel will be part of the South China Sea Rescue Bureau at the Ministry of Transport, the official newspaper China Daily reported on Monday. Flag raising, patriotism and PLA documentaries ... life as a tourist cruising the South China Sea Officials did not specify on which island the ship would be based, but said it would enable rescue forces to help fishing boats in trouble and shorten the distance they needed to travel. In April, a military aircraft landed on Fiery Cross Reef, one of China’s man-made islands in the Spratlys, to evacuate three critically ill construction workers. Elsewhere in the South China Sea, a cruise liner operated by a state-owned company is helping to bolster China’s claims to the contested lands and waters by increasing the country’s economic and civilian presence. ‘Underwater Great Wall’: Chinese firm proposes building network of submarine detectors to boost nation’s defence Over the past three years, the cruise liner has taken nearly 20,000 tourists to some of the Paracel Islands, which have been controlled by the People’s Liberation Army since a battle against then US-backed South Vietnam in 1974. China has refused to take part in the legal procedure launched by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. Even so, ahead of the court’s ruling on disputes over Scarborough Shoal and reefs in the Spratlys, Beijing has spared no effort in trying to mitigate what is expected to be an unfavourable result. Security vs economics: Asean countries stuck between US and China in South China Sea row As part of these efforts, lighthouses and rescue bases are being established to provide public services in the Spratlys. And in the Paracels, the Star of the Northern Bay regularly brings islanders extra income and fresh supplies, and takes away their household waste, helping to sustain habitation on these ecologically fragile islands.