South China Sea
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy [picture for representation]U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

A new Chinese cruise ship began its first journey to the Paracel Islands in South China Sea, according Xinhua news agency.

The new cruise ship has the capacity to carry 499 people and has 82 guest rooms with entertainment, shopping, dining, postal services and medical treatment on board.

The Changle Princess set off from Sanya on Hainan province on Thursday (2 March) afternoon with 308 passengers on board. The voyage would last for four days, Xinhua added.

Tourists could visit three islands in the Crescent group of the Paracel Islands.

Beijing had earlier said that it plans to build villas, shops and hotels on the islands. It also nurses ambitions to build Maldives-style resorts around South China Sea. It is not clear if foreigners will be permitted to visit.

China lays claim to 90% of the resource rich South China Sea, through which a third of the world's maritime traffic passes. Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Philippines and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea.

The countries who claim resources in the sea have reportedly encouraged civilian presence on the disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the Paracel Islands.

Meanwhile, China has almost finished building over two dozen structures on the artificial islands that will house long range surface-to-air missiles, US Intelligence officials said last week.

US officials also said that Beijing's building of concrete structures with retractable roofs on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reef that are part of the Spratly Islands could be seen as military escalation.