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Sri Lanka has said it will allow foreign offshore research ships for replenishments at its ports despite a one-year ban on such vessels, a senior official has said after China protested to Colombo for allowing a German survey ship but turning down Beijing’s similar request.

This is the first time Sri Lanka has officially admitted that foreign research vessels will be allowed for replenishments since President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government imposed a one-year ban on offshore research vessels in December last year after strong security concerns raised by India and the US following the visit of two Chinese high-tech research vessels in 14 months.

“The ban on foreign ships is for research purposes, not on replenishment,” the Economy Next portal quoted Niluka Kadurugamuwa, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, as saying.

“There was a German research vessel recently for replenishment and Sri Lanka allowed it,” he said.

Chinese Embassy in Colombo has raised strong protest against the move to allow a German research vessel to dock at a port early this month after Sri Lankan authorities turned down a request from Beijing for a research vessel in February.

Diplomats have told the Economy Next that the strong Chinese protest was also because Sri Lanka’s ban was implemented after Indian pressure.

When the ban was announced, the government failed to specifically reveal its stance on requests for replenishment or crew change for foreign research vessels.

Sri Lanka is in the process of introducing an SOP (Standard Operation Procedure) for handling foreign research vessels.

Two Chinese spy ships were allowed to dock in Sri Lanka ports within 14 months through November 2023, with one called for replenishment and the other for research.

Chinese research ship Shi Yan 6 arrived in Sri Lanka in October 2023 and docked at Colombo port, for what Beijing cited as “geophysical scientific research” in collaboration with the island nation’s National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA).

In August 2022, Chinese navy vessel Yuan Wang 5 docked at Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka for replenishment.

Both drew strong protests from India citing security concerns in the Indian Ocean. There were apprehensions in New Delhi about the possibility of the Chinese vessel’s tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian defence installations.