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Diplomatic clearance: New SOP provided to foreign missions

Diplomatic clearance: New SOP provided to foreign missions

27 Nov 2023 | BY Asiri Fernando

  • SL moots foreign survey vessel embargo?

The Government has last week officially communicated the amended standard operating procedure (SOP) used by Sri Lanka to grant diplomatic permission for foreign warships, military aircraft, and research vessels, to a number of foreign missions in Colombo, it is learnt.

When contacted regarding the SOP, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry told The Daily Morning: “We have communicated to the missions who have made such port calls to Sri Lanka during the last 10 years.” He added that the Foreign Ministry had communicated the SOP to such missions, and would be available to any foreign mission based in Colombo upon request.

The new SOP had received cabinet approval in July, but was not introduced due to amendments which were made to the draft. The Sunday Morning reported earlier about the delays in introducing the SOP and that a draft had been shared with some countries.

The existing SOP – which came into effect in 2016 – was reviewed by the Sri Lankan Government following concerns raised by India, the United States (US), and others in August last year following the controversial visit by the Chinese satellite tracking vessel, the Yuan Wang 5. 

The visit of Chinese state-owned research vessels have drawn strong criticism and concern from the US and India, with the Indian media often characterising such vessels as “spy” ships. However, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickrememsinghe has long denied the presence of any “spy” ships in Sri Lanka ports or waters, and reiterated it in a recent interview with an Indian broadcast channel. Wickremesinghe said that foreign warships and research ships were welcome, but permission will not be granted to “spy” ships. He added that while many warships and research vessels from a number of nations call on Sri Lanka port, only the arrival of Chinese vessels trigger a media frenzy.   

The delay in enforcing the reviewed SOP raised concerns with the arrival of the Chinese geophysical and seismic scientific research vessel Shi Yan 6 (IMO: 9904247) last month without permission to carry out its proposed survey. Sri Lanka, post arrival of the vessel, granted approval for a two-day joint survey with the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA).

A senior government official close to the matter told The Daily Morning on condition of anonymity that the Sri Lankan Government is considering an embargo on foreign marine scientific research requests for an unspecified period, due to diplomatic tensions and concerns. The Daily Morning has previously reported that the NARA has a sea-going vessel in its inventory for marine science research, RV Samudrika. While Samudrika may not be equipped with advanced sensors as found about many of the marine scientific research vessels that have called at Sri Lankan ports in the past ten years, it is capable of carrying on basic hydrographic and oceanographic research.

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