Chinese research ship Shi Yan 6 arrives near a port in Colombo on October 25, 2023. Chinese research ship Shi Yan 6 arrived in Sri Lanka on October 25, a year after a similar port call by a spacecraft-tracking vessel raised security concerns from neighbouring India. (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images)
SCIENTISTS from China and Sri Lanka are conducting joint “marine scientific” activities on board a Chinese research vessel, a senior official said on Tuesday (31), amid concerns voiced by India and the US.
Scientists from the National Aquatic Research Agency (NARA), personnel from the Navy and the University of Ruhuna were given clearance to go on board, a spokesman for the Colombo Foreign Ministry said.
“Clearance was granted to carry out marine scientific research on Monday (30) and Tuesday (31),” Kapila Fonseka added.
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.
Sri Lanka last week granted 48 hours for the Chinese vessel, Shi Yan 6, to conduct marine research off the island’s west coast under supervision, the foreign ministry said last Sunday (29), despite Indian concerns that it could be a spy ship. The research ship has been in Colombo since last Wednesday (25).
Earlier, Sri Lanka allowed the vessel to enter the main port of Colombo only for “replenishments” over concerns raised by India that the craft could be used to spy against them.
New Delhi is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka, which is strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.
A spacecraft-tracking Chinese vessel last year raised security concerns from India and Sri Lanka prohibited it from undertaking any research activities while in its waters.
Fonseka said local scientists will be onboard Shi Yan 6 during two days of research activities along the western seaboard of the island.
“Apart from our scientists and researchers, the Sri Lanka navy too will be monitoring this vessel,” Fonseka said.
The 90-metre (300-foot) vessel is anchored at the Colombo harbour where a Chinese state-run company operates a deep sea terminal.
A pair of Chinese submarines docked there in 2014, raising protests from India.
There was no immediate comment from either the Chinese or Indian diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka after Colombo granted limited approvals to Shi Yan 6.
Chinese state broadcaster CGTN calls the Shi Yan 6 a “scientific research vessel” with a crew of 60 to conduct oceanography, geology and marine ecology tests.
In September, 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 Lanka’s 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 routinely dispatches its research/surveillance vessels to Sri Lanka.
Another Chinese research vessel, Yuan Wang 5, which specialises in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship, visited Sri Lanka last year.
It docked in 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 $1.4 billion (£1.15bn) loan taken for the project.