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Submersible sets new Chinese dive record: media

BEIJING -- A manned Chinese submersible on Friday set a new record for the country's deepest ever sea dive at 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), state media said.

The “Jiaolong” craft descended to that depth in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, the first in a series of six planned dives which will culminate at 7,000 meters, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The vessel — named after a dragon from Chinese mythology — reached 5,188 meters in a Pacific dive last July, the previous record.

The submersible, which carried three men, reached 6,000 meters at around 0200 GMT, nearly three hours into the dive, Xinhua said in a report on its website.

The deep-sea dive push comes as China prepares to launch a spacecraft — likely within days — to conduct its first manned space docking, as part of its efforts to establish a permanent space station by 2020.

Experts say China intends to use the submersible for scientific research, such as collecting samples of undersea life and studying geological structures, as well as future development of mineral resources.

But one Chinese expert on Friday described the latest dives as an “experiment” for China and said future use of submersibles for scientific research faced obstacles.

“Even after it reaches the 7,000-meter depth, it still remains a question whether it can achieve scientific purposes,” Zhou Huaiyang, professor of the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences at Shanghai's Tongji University, told AFP.

“It will face multiple issues before it achieves scientific purposes.”

The stability and durability of the craft, the proficiency of the crew and the ability of both to operate in different undersea environments were key factors for future scientific use, he said.

Energy-hungry China has previously said its submersible program is aimed at scientific research, peaceful exploration and natural resources.

Scientists say the oceans' floors contain rich deposits of potentially valuable minerals, but the extreme depths pose technical difficulties in harvesting them on a large scale.

Earlier this year, American film director James Cameron descended about seven miles (11 kilometers) to the bottom of the Mariana Trench — the deepest place in the world.

His effort is believed to have at least equaled the record for the deepest manned dive, set by a U.S. Navy officer and a Swiss oceanographer in 1960, according to Guinness World Records.

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