Vessel to dock at Colombo for 17 days for 'research and scientific expedition'

A Chinese “research” vessel, Shi Yan 6, has been spotted in the Malacca Strait. The ship is en route to it’s destination to the Colombo port in Sri Lanka. The vessel is said to be docking in Colombo for research purposes in the Indian Ocean region. The Strait of Malacca is a narrow stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula to the northeast and the Indonesian island of Sumatra to the southwest, connecting the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea.

The vessel, which is scheduled to reach Sri Lanka on October 25, will be involved in research operations for 17 days, as confirmed by Sri Lankan authorities. It is claimed that the vessel will arrive in the country as part of an agreement with a university. Research affiliated with Sri Lanka’s National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) will start a scientific expedition aboard the vessel.

New Delhi had raised serious concerns with the Ranil Wickremesinghe government in connection with granting permission to the Chinese research vessel to dock at the Sri Lankan port. Though there was confusion then on whether the permission was granted by the Sri Lankan government or not, the Chinese ship on its way to Colombo affirms the fact. The vessel had earlier visited China in April 2022 and was there for 10 days.

But it might not be able to track satellites and missiles after all. An expert says, “The ship may not have the antennae to track satellites and missiles but the technical research equipment it has and the work it does can be used for offence as well as defence. Sea bed mapping, in case of conflict, can be useful for them for deployments of submarines. Now, what is the research that they plan to do, that is for Sri Lanka to decide. China is also trying to prove its dominance in the region. By not addressing India’s concerns and allowing Chinese ship to dock at its port, Sri Lanka has given priority to China.”

Last year, India had also protested against the docking of Chinese vessel Yuan Wang 5 at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. Purportedly a ‘research’ vessel, experts believed that it was equipped to monitor satellite and missile launches. “They have been making all kinds of excuses. Yuan Wang 5 that was spotted near Hambantotta, had got huge parabolic antennae and radars which could track satellites (their own and someone else’s). They could also track missile trajectory. They will not get too much of data. However, that is something on which India can only protest,” Vice Admiral Anup Singh (Retd) said.

Chinese Spy ships have an infamous history of visiting the Indian Ocean region. In April this year, another Chinese spy ship Yuan Wang 7 was spotted in the same region. It is China’s missile and satellite tracking vessel. This was when India had conducted missile tests in the Indian Ocean region, off the coast of Odisha. India had issued notifications for a no-fly zone in the area between April 24 and 29 and also between April 26 and 28. China had deployed two spy ships to track India’s PSLV satellite launch on July 30.

The missile and satellite tracking spy vessels Yuan Wang 6 and 7 were spotted in the region, which the Indian military officials believed were tracking Indian Space Research Organisation’s July 30 launch.

Sri Lanka had earlier allowed surveillance and missile trackers ships at its Colombo and Hambantota ports even while India had been raising its concerns.

In July this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the Sri Lankan government to keep Indian security concerns in mind. Despite that, India has not been able to stop Sri Lanka from allowing Chinese ships to dock at its ports.

Debt-ridden Sri Lanka had been granting access to Chinese ships in the garb of research vessels. Colombo is in deep Chinese debt and cannot afford to annoy President Xi Jinping as the country owes around $3 billion to China.