Sri Lanka responds to Indian concerns, drafts SOPs for visiting foreign ships
The Sri Lankan SOPs will lay down the type of vessels that can make port calls and how long they can remain in the country’s territorial waters
NEW DELHI: The Sri Lankan government is set to unveil new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for visits by foreign ships or aircraft, including military assets, as part of efforts to address India’s concerns over port calls by Chinese vessels, people familiar with the matter said.
The SOPs, which will include guidelines and details about the type of vessels to be allowed into Sri Lanka’s ports and territorial waters, are expected to be formally announced by authorities in Colombo soon, people familiar with the initiative in both Sri Lanka and India said on condition of anonymity.
The development comes against the backdrop of a diplomatic row between New Delhi and Colombo last year over the docking of Yuan Wang 5, a vessel used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to track satellites and ballistic missiles, at the Chinese-controlled Hambantota port. Another People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel, Hai Yang 24 Hao, known to have surveillance capabilities, visited Colombo port in August 2023.
One of the people cited above said: “The SOPs will lay down the type of vessels that can make port calls. For instance, the class of submarines and warships that can make visits to Sri Lanka’s ports. The SOPs will also state how long the vessels can remain in the country’s territorial waters and the type of activities they can engage in.”
A second person familiar with the initiative on the Indian side said: “These guidelines and SOPs are fine but what will matter are actions taken on the ground.”
The Indian side’s greatest concern is that the Chinese vessels can use their equipment to snoop on Indian security facilities while in Sri Lankan waters, the people said.
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe referred to the SOPs while participating in the Annual Indo-Pacific Islands Dialogue organised by Carnegie Endowment in New York this month. He contended the new SOPs were built on earlier procedures set by the Sri Lankan Navy and were framed following consultations with the Indian side.
“Recently, we had discussions with India and we’ve now taken on all the amendments. So, any ships that come in now are according to an operation procedure which we have done together with India. I can’t see any ship that’s a threat coming in through that operating procedure,” Wickremesinghe said.
He said only Chinese research vessels visit the island country under the terms of agreements between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) and some universities of Sri Lanka. Such vessels have visited Sri Lanka for the past 10 years, he added.
Both India and the US have expressed concern about a planned visit to Sri Lanka by another Chinese research vessel, Shi Yan 6, described by China’s state media as a ship with a 60-member crew that conducts oceanography, marine geology and marine ecology tests. China sought permission from Sri Lanka in August for a port call by the vessel, but the people said a final decision on dates for a visit is yet to be made.
While the Indian side conveyed its concerns to authorities in Colombo, US under secretary of state for political affairs Victoria Nuland took up the matter with Sri Lankan foreign minister Ali Sabry during a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Shi Yan 6 is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka in October to carry out tests with NARA.