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Chinese research vessel Yuan Wang 5 has ‘slowed down’ but still en route Sri Lankan port

Yuan Wang 5 is currently 599 nautical miles away from Hambantota, having been at sea for 35 hours since departing the Chinese port of Taicang, according to latest data.

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New Delhi: Chinese research vessel Yuan Wang 5, which was slated to reach Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port Thursday, has slowed down its voyage — latest satellite imagery shows — after Colombo withdrew its berthing permission following India’s intervention.

Sources in the Indian defence and security establishment said the destination of the vessel continues to be the Lankan port.

According to atlas software data collected by Norwegian company Maritime Optima, Yuan Wang 5 is currently 599 nautical miles away from Hambantota, having been at sea for 35 consecutive hours since departing the Chinese port of Taicang.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry had last week asked Beijing to defer the arrival of the ship, which was scheduled to dock at the Hambantota port from 11 to 17 August, in light of objections from India on grounds of security concerns.

Meanwhile, intelligence analyst Damien Symon Thursday tweeted saying, “[Yuan Wang 5] appears to be holding or running a mission ~600 Nautical miles from Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean as it awaits berthing permission in Hambantota after objections by India.”

Previously, Symon had reported the Chinese ship as having changed its path 650-700 nautical miles away from the southern Sri Lankan port.

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Ship can conduct satellite control, research tracking

Yuan Wang 5 was constructed in 2007 by Jiangnan Shipyard and is owned by the Chinese PLA.

“[Yuan Wang 5] could conduct satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region,” Y Ranaraja, the director of the China-backed firm Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka (BRISL), had said about the vessel.

The ship’s impending berthing at Hambantota is significant in light of China’s broader Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) ambitions in the Indian Ocean Region, while Sri Lanka continues to grapple with an economic and political crisis.

The Hambantota port has been operational since 2010 but had been labelled as among several white elephants in the island nation, despite its reports of profitability in 2016.

Following efforts made by the Sri Lankan government at privatising the port, which it had described as a “debt-to-equity swap”, the government granted a 99-year lease of the port to the Hong Kong-based partially state-owned company China Merchants Port in December 2016.

As part of the deal, China Merchants Port also purchased a 70 per cent stake at the Hambantota port in July 2017, with Sri Lankan officials insisting at the time that the port would not be used by the Chinese armed forces, according to the BBC.

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