BEIJING - The country's first aircraft carrier finished its maiden sea trial on Sunday and returned to port in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province, domestic media reported.
At about 10:30 am, the carrier, which was known as the "Varyag" when at the Black Sea Shipyard in Ukraine, broke through a thick fog and appeared about 3 kilometers east of the docks of the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co Ltd, which refitted the giant ship, according to the Beijing-based Mirror Evening News.
At least seven tugboats guided the vessel to the dock, the report said.
Naval officers on the deck were seen "leisurely strolling", it added. The aircraft carrier sounded its horn three times as it approached the shipyard, exactly as it did when departing on Wednesday.
People waiting on the dock lit firecrackers to welcome the returning carrier, as seen in a video clip shot by a military fan that was posted on fyjs.cn, a major Chinese military forum.
At 11:30 am, the vessel, surrounded by the tugboats, docked.
An hour later, another huge ship bearing hull number 88 returned to the place where it had been anchored near the carrier's berth, said the Mirror Evening News.
The conclusion of the sea trial sparked a new round of online jubilation by Chinese military enthusiasts, who have been closely following every step of the vessel's refitting and sharing photos and information about the ship on military websites.
"I think the aircraft carrier is now more powerful and mighty after it successfully conducted the trial," said netizen "feibaoluyang" on fyjs.cn.
"I shall have a big drink with my friends tonight!"
Some fans in Dalian said they had the honor of witnessing the return of "Mother Varyag", nickname given by naval enthusiasts to the ship.
"I saw the Five-Star Red Flag, our national flag, flying at the top of the superstructure, which excited me the most," a Dalian resident and military fan surnamed Liu told China Daily on Sunday.
"When the ship came into sight, I found I couldn't take a good picture since my hands were trembling. There were no helicopters or airplanes on deck, but that didn't sour our happiness."
Fans are fiercely debating topics such as when the as-yet-unnamed "aircraft carrier platform", the term used by the Chinese military authorities, will enter active service and whether airplanes actually tried to land on the deck during the five-day trial voyage.
Early media reports cited unidentified military sources as saying that the vessel is supposed to be handed over to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy around Aug 1 next year, which will be the PLA's 85th anniversary.