|A marine surveillance helicopter flies over the Ganquan Island, an uninhabited island of the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea, March 11, 2013. Crew members aboard the Chinese marine surveillance ship Haijian 262 patrolled the Ganquan Island on Monday. (Xinhua/Wei Hua)
BOAO, Hainan, April 7 (Xinhua) -- China is scheduled to let tourists visit the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea ahead of the forthcoming May Day holiday, said Tan Li, executive vice governor of the southern-most province of Hainan, on Saturday.
People will be allowed to visit the islands on cruise tours, said Tan at the 2013 Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, which will open on Sunday.
Details on the tour routes, capacity of tourist reception and cruise ships will be released on a later date, he said.
The Xisha Islands are a cluster of close to 40 islets, sandbanks and reefs.
Tourists will eat and sleep on the cruise ships and can land on the islands for sightseeing, the official said.
Cruise tours are the choice as hotels and other facilities to accommodate tourists are inadequate, he said.
There is only one hotel with 56 rooms in the 2.13-square-kilometer Yongxing Island, the largest island among the Xisha Islands group and home to the government offices of Sansha city. In addition, there is no fresh water and all supplies have to be transported from outside.
The city was established last summer to administer more than 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and 2 million square kilometers of surrounding waters.
A cruise ship with a gross registered tonnage of 47,000 tonnes that can accommodate 1,965 passengers is ready for sailing, according to the ship owner Haihang Group Corp Ltd..
Hainan Harbor and Shipping Holdings Co. is building another one.
"The tour prices will be relatively high due to the high costs of tourism infrastructure construction," said Huang Huaru, general manager of a tourism agency in Hainan.
However, experts said Sansha could only receive a small number of visitors provided the fragile environment there.
The founding of Sansha City will improve China's management of the region and help coordinate efforts to develop the islands and protect the marine environment, said Zhao Zhongshe, director of the Hainan Provincial Department of Ocean and Fisheries.
Tan said local authorities will build more supply ships, ports as well as water supply and sewage treatment facilities to improve infrastructure in Sansha.
Meanwhile, authorities will also beef up ecological protection to protect island and marine resources and preserve the local biodiversity, he said.