Chinese research vessel sinks off Sri Lanka after being delayed

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Chinese scientific research vessel whose port call was earlier delayed due to security concerns raised by India arrived at a southern Sri Lankan port on Tuesday.

Yuan Wang 5 was received at Hambantota port by Sri Lankan port authorities and Chinese officials of the shipping company.

The ship was originally scheduled to arrive on August 11, but the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked for the docking to be postponed pending further consultations. The ministry said late last week that the ship was allowed to dock at Hambantota until August 22. It said both sides have agreed that the ship will continue its identification system and will not conduct any research activities while in Sri Lankan waters.

Sri Lanka said it was delaying the arrival of the ship due to concerns raised with the ministry but did not say who had raised them. This likely includes security concerns from neighboring India over the ship’s proximity to its southern borders.

India on Monday gifted a naval spy plane to Sri Lanka to strengthen its maritime security. Sri Lankan Navy and Air Force personnel trained by India will operate the aircraft with operational support from Indian personnel, the Indian embassy said.

India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Arndam Bagchi earlier said that India was aware of a planned visit by the ship and closely monitors any developments that affect its security and economic interests. Will take all measures to protect them.

China is looking to expand its influence in Sri Lanka, which sits along one of the busiest shipping routes that India considers part of its strategic hinterland.

India has provided crucial aid to the Indian Ocean nation, including food, fuel, medicine and cooking gas, as it grapples with an economic crisis amid a severe foreign exchange crisis. At the same time, China’s agreement for Sri Lanka to restructure its infrastructure debt is essential for the country to reach a bailout program with the International Monetary Fund.

China has loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for development projects, some of which have been criticized for having little practical application. These include the Hambantota port, which Sri Lanka leased to China in 2017 because it could not repay a loan.

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Associated Press writer Krishan Francis contributed to this report from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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