No decision to end moratorium on foreign research vessels on Sri Lanka's EEZ: FM Sabry

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Colombo, Jul 8 (PTI) Foreign Minister Ali Sabry on Monday said the Sri Lankan government has not decided on ending the moratorium on allowing foreign scientific research survey vessels in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the island nation.

The minister's clarification came days after reports in the Japanese media said that Sri Lanka has decided to lift from next year a ban on the visit of foreign research ships imposed after strong security concerns raised by India and the US following frequent docking requests from hi-tech Chinese surveillance vessels.

The change in position was conveyed by visiting Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Sabry to the NHK World Japan, the report said.

However, Sabry denied the reports on Monday and said the news that Sri Lanka had ended a moratorium on allowing foreign scientific research survey vessels in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the island nation were inaccurately quoted, The Morning newspaper reported.

Sri Lanka introduced the moratorium in 2024.

“This is misquoting the essence of it. Right now we have a moratorium till the end of the year. We will assess the situation at the end of the year and then decide whether to continue the moratorium or lift it," the minister said.

Sabry said Sri Lanka was duty-bound to respect obligations under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

With the increased movement of Chinese research vessels in the Indian Ocean, New Delhi had last year expressed concern that those might be spy ships and urged Colombo not to allow such vessels to dock at its ports.

After India raised concern, Sri Lanka banned the entry of foreign research vessels from docking at its port in January. Earlier this year, it had made an exception for a Chinese vessel but said the ban would continue otherwise.

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).

The US had expressed concern to Sri Lanka before the arrival of Shi Yan 6, a high-tech research vessel.

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

Cash-strapped Sri Lanka considers both India and China equally important partners in its task to restructure its external debt.

The island nation was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis in 2022, the worst since its independence from Britain in 1948, due to a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves.

Located at a strategic point in the Indian Ocean, the island nation is an important stop for marine traffic between South East Asia and West Asia, which is part of the global trade route. PTI CORR PY AKJ PY PY