Sri Lanka allowed the Chinese research vessel Shi Yan 6 to dock at Colombo port on October 25 for a two-day joint research mission with local partners in the country’s Western territorial waters, starting from October 30. The Sri Lankan Navy and marine scientists from the National Aquatic Research Agency (NARA) will be on board throughout the period. The University of Ruhuna, which was due to take part, will not be participating in the research study.
The visit of the vessel followed hectic diplomatic activity between Colombo and Beijing. China had initially asked for permission to do maritime research work around Sri Lanka, but this drew diplomatic protests from India and the United States. Sri Lanka eventually allowed the vessel to dock in Colombo on a compromise reached with China.
The Shi Yan 6 is a geophysical and seismic research vessel that is capable of conducting a wide range of oceanographic surveys. It is owned and operated by the China Marine Research Institute, a state-owned enterprise under the Ministry of Natural Resources of China.
The vessel’s presence in Sri Lankan waters has raised concerns among some observers, who believe that it could be used for espionage or to map the seabed for future military operations. However, the Chinese government has insisted that the vessel is on a purely scientific mission.
Sri Lanka has also hosted two other vessels, one from Japan and the other from South Korea, in recent weeks. This is seen as an attempt by Sri Lanka to emphasize its non-aligned policy in Indian Ocean issues.
The following is a more detailed account of the events leading up to the Shi Yan 6’s visit to Sri Lanka:
In August 2023, China requested permission for the Shi Yan 6 to dock at Colombo port and conduct maritime research in Sri Lankan waters.
India and the United States raised diplomatic protests over the request, citing concerns that the vessel could be used for espionage or to map the seabed for future military operations.
Sri Lanka initially denied China’s request, but later agreed to allow the vessel to dock in Colombo on October 25 for a two-day joint research mission with local partners.
The Sri Lankan Navy and marine scientists from the National Aquatic Research Agency (NARA) will be on board throughout the period.
The research will be limited to designated areas of the Western Province.
The Shi Yan 6’s visit to Sri Lanka has been controversial, but it is important to note that Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and has the right to decide which vessels can dock at its ports. The Sri Lankan government has stated that the vessel is on a purely scientific mission and that it will be closely monitoring its activities.