Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Sri Lanka says it will not ban any foreign research ships from its ports from next year

COLOMBO, JULY 7: Sri Lanka has decided to lift from next year a ban on the visit of foreign research ships imposed after strong security concerns raised by India and the US following frequent docking requests from hi-tech Chinese surveillance vessels, the Japanese media reported.
The change in position was conveyed by visiting Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to the NHK World Japan.
With the increased movement of Chinese research vessels in the Indian Ocean, New Delhi had expressed concern that those might be spy ships and urged Colombo not to allow such vessels to dock at its ports.
After India raised concern, Sri Lanka banned the entry of foreign research vessels from docking at its port in January. Earlier this year, it had made an exception for a Chinese vessel but said the ban would continue otherwise.
Sabry said his Government cannot have different rules for different countries and only block China. He added that his country will not take sides in a dispute between others, the NHK World Japan said in a report on Friday.
The moratorium is till January next year. Sri Lanka will then no longer ban foreign research ships from its ports next year, Sabry said.
Two Chinese spy ships were allowed to dock in Sri Lanka ports within 14 months through November 2023, with one called for replenishment and the other for research.
Chinese research ship Shi Yan 6 arrived in Sri Lanka in October 2023 and docked at Colombo port, for what Beijing cited as “geophysical scientific research” in collaboration with the island nation’s National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA).
The US had expressed concern to Sri Lanka before the arrival of Shi Yan 6.
In August 2022, Chinese navy vessel Yuan Wang 5 docked at Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka for replenishment.
Cash-strapped Sri Lanka considers both India and China equally important partners in its task to restructure its external debt.
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.
Meanwhile, Sabry also expressed gratitude for Japan’s plan to provide a ship equipped with sonar, which, he said, will give Sri Lanka “an opportunity to do its own survey and collect its own data, and commercially exploit it”. Sabry emphasised that Sri Lanka has untapped maritime resources and research is essential, but it has to be done in a transparent manner, the NHK report added.
Located at a strategic point in the Indian Ocean, the island nation is an important stop for marine traffic between South East Asia and West Asia, which is part of the global trade route. (PTI)