Colombo | Scientists from China and Sri Lanka are conducting a joint “marine scientific” activities on board a Chinese research vessel, a senior official said Tuesday, amidst concerns voiced by India and the US.
The Chinese ship, 'Shi Yan 6' arrived at the Colombo port last week. According to sources, Sri Lanka was delaying granting permission for the arrival of the vessel due to concerns raised by India. However, there is no official confirmation of the same.
“Clearance was granted to carry out marine scientific research on October 30 and 31," a spokesman for the Colombo Foreign Ministry said.
The vessel is currently located off the western waters, he said.
Scientists from the National Aquatic Research Agency (NARA), personnel from the Navy and the University of Ruhuna were given clearance to go on board, he added.
Director General of NARA Dr Kamal Tennakoon said the vessel is engaged in research activities in the seas off Bentara in Colombo.
The Chinese geophysical scientific research vessel commenced research operations in the Sea of Sri Lanka on Monday.
Described as a Research/Survey Vessel with a carrying capacity of 1,115 DWT, the vessel is reported to be 5.3 metres in length overall 90.6 metres and width 17 metres.
It is said to be China's first scientific research vessel focusing on geophysical exploration.
NARA said the temperature of the seawater, the condition of the sea waves, how they affect fish and climate change will be studied during the research, NewsFirst Lanka reported.
NARA said samples of different seawater levels will also be tested.
Four NARA officials joined the research activities while two Navy officers also joined the research team.
The ship was expected to bring back the Sri Lankan personnel on board to Colombo off the western waters tomorrow at the conclusion of the activities, the spokesman said.
The vessel had applied to do a joint survey of Sri Lanka's marine borders, officials said. However, the research would now be limited to western waters.
In August, permission was sought by the Chinese research vessel to conduct marine research activities in October.
The arrival of Shi Yan 6 followed President Ranil Wickremesinghe's visit to China last week.
Last month, the US expressed concern to Sri Lanka about the scheduled visit of the Chinese research ship to the island nation.
US Under Secretary Victoria Nuland, who met Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, had reportedly raised concerns about the visit of ‘SHI YAN 6'.
China dispatches its research/surveillance vessels to Sri Lanka on a regular basis.
India has been raising concerns over the visits of Chinese vessels to Lanka.
The Government of India raised concern over the visit of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy warship HAI YANG 24 in mid-August.
On a similar visit by a Chinese satellite tracking ship in early 2022, the Indians protested strongly.
However, after a considerable delay, Sri Lanka allowed the ship to dock at the southern port of Hambantota, a port in Sri Lanka's south under a 99-year lease to the Chinese company that built it after Colombo was unable to service a USD 1.4 billion loan taken for the project.
In August last year, a similar visit by the Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship, ‘Yuan Wang 5', which arrived in the southern Sri Lankan port of Hambantota elicited strong reactions from India.
Cash-strapped Sri Lanka considers both India and China equally important partners in its task to restructure its external debt. China is one of the top lenders to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka owes USD 7.1 billion to bilateral creditors, including USD 3 billion to China.
The island nation was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis in 2022, the worst since its independence from Britain in 1948, due to a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves.