China’s Shi Yan 6: SL’s permission pending

The Chinese geophysical and seismic scientific research vessel Shi Yan 6 (IMO: 9904247) has commenced its 80-day expedition into the Indian Ocean and was enroute to the Malacca Strait yesterday (16) evening, despite Colombo not yet having granted diplomatic permission for the vessel to call port or carry out a planned joint survey in the waters surrounding the island, The Sunday Morning learns.

According to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Priyanga Wickramasinghe, the ministry has not granted the Shi Yan 6 permission as of last evening.

Wickramasinghe added that the dates and territories for the survey were yet to be finalised.

Last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry, responding to a question, confirmed that Sri Lanka had not granted permission and that the request was being processed.

Last month, the Ministry of Defence told The Sunday Morning that permission for the Shi Yan 6 to call port in Colombo had been granted. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disputed the statement, stressing that Sri Lanka had not granted permission and was processing the request.

China has made the request seeking clearance for the mission in April this year, with the vessel planned to visit the island in October.

The Sunday Morning also reported that the Shi Yan 6’s request for a wide range coastal survey had been resisted by top defence officials, with recommendations made that the survey should be limited to the southern coast of the island.

The vessel’s planned arrival in Sri Lanka stokes controversy one year after the controversial visit of Chinese satellite tracking ship, the Yuan Wang 5, to Hambantota Port, which drew strong concerns from India and the US.

The Shi Yan 6 is expected to undertake a joint research with the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) as part of an agreement between the parties in 2014 to locate the wrecks of vessels from historic Chinese navigator Admiral Zheng He’s fleet off the southern coast.

According to Chinese media reports, the Shi Yan 6, which is operated by the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology (SCSIO), is heading to the East Indian Ocean on an 80-day-long expedition, departing from Guangzhou in South China’s Guangdong Province.

The vessel, one of the latest in China’s growing scientific fleet, is entering the expedition with 28 scientific research projects from 13 research teams onboard and is expected to cover a range of more than 12,000 nautical miles, reports indicate.

“The voyage, based on multidisciplinary observations, aims to obtain a large amount of basic data for revealing the mechanisms by which dynamic processes affect biogeochemical cycles, ecosystems, and sedimentary processes in that region, clarifying the geographical pattern of biodiversity in the study area, uncovering the response and indicative role of biological communities to physical processes, as well as understanding paleoclimate changes, Wang Weiqing, Chief Scientist of the expedition, said. An observation system will be deployed in the key observation area to study the current system in the local topographic evolution and its relationship with seabed sediments and geology,” the Chinese broadcaster CGTN said.

The online ship tracking organisation on Friday (15) indicated that the vessel had departed, making 10.4 knots, passing the coast of Vietnam and heading to the Malacca Strait, through which ships transit to the Indian Ocean.