China is preparing to launch its first ultradeep water drillship for worldwide oceanic oil and gas exploration, according to state media reports. The vessel will be able to operate in any waters around the globe and drill deeper than 10,000 metres (32,800 feet), state broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday. The ship was commissioned by China’s Ministry of Natural Resources, and will be operated by the ministry’s Geological Survey Bureau. Its launch comes as energy-hungry China looks to expand its offshore oil and gas development. “This ship is … a ‘pillar of power’ that supports the building of a strong maritime country,” the CCTV report said. “It represents a key step forward in the development of deep water exploration equipment.” This ship’s reach goes far beyond regional waters, where Beijing’s attempts at energy exploitation have been beset by political difficulties because of territorial disputes with its neighbours. There are a string of underwater natural gas fields in the East China Sea, which is about 2,700 metres deep, but China and Japan have been at odds over who has exclusive economic rights over the area. In the South China Sea , where the deepest part is about 5,600 metres and believed to be rich in fossil fuels, China and rival claimants, especially Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, often engaged in disputes and tense stand-offs over drilling rigs or even just survey ships in the area. Nationwide protests erupted in Vietnam in 2014 when a Chinese oil rig went into a contested part of the South China Sea. And a drill ship hired by Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas to survey for oil in the South China Sea was harassed by Chinese boats “on a daily basis” throughout its mission between 2020 and 2021. The new Chinese drillship will be able to carry out both oil and gas drilling and oceanic scientific drilling in the high seas in any part of the world’s oceans, according to CCTV. It would also focus on solving important resource and environmental science problems. It would be fitted out with advanced equipment and loaded with nine laboratories designed for most areas of oceanic sciences, including China’s first shipborne paleomagnetic lab to study magnetism in samples, and ultra-clean lab, making it a world leader, the report said. Besides national missions, the ship would also take up international scientific projects in oceanic drilling, it added. The ship is being built in the Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, and expected to be fully operational in 2024. The same shipbuilder is also the manufacturer of most of China’s scientific and exploratory survey ships. The shipyard’s last major survey ship, the Shiyan 6 , was commissioned and began operations in the South China Sea last year.