The Chinese research and survey vessel that departed on July 13 from Jiangyin, China, for the Hambantota port of Sri Lanka, continues to be surrounded with mystery. According to open-source maritime data, the alleged ‘spy’ ship changed its track at least three times over past three days, though it continued to be destined to dock at the Sri Lankan port.
Earlier media reports suggested that the docking of Yuan Wang 5 was deferred following objections from India. According to Chinese state affiliated publication Global Times, the vessel was moving to Sri Lanka “for refueling and replenishment” and “was asked by the Sri Lankan government to indefinitely postpone the arrangement under the pressure of India.”
However, another China affiliated Sri Lankan consulting firm, Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka, said that the purpose of the vessel was to “conduct space tracking, satellite control and research tracking in the north-western part of the Indian Ocean region through August and September”.
The timing of the ship’s voyage to Sri Lanka following the political crisis in the island country is another reason for suspicion. According to a US defense department report, these kinds of ships are operated by the Strategic Support Force of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). According to a Reuters report, “commercial activities in the port were handed to a Chinese company in 2017 on a 99-year lease after the Sri Lankan government could not repay its debt.”
Path of Chinese vessel Yuan Wang 5.
Hambantota port (Image credits: Google Earth)
Several popular Open-Source Intelligence accounts have been tracking the recent position of the vessel since its voyage began last month.
UPDATE – YUAN WANG 5 #China‘s military research ship appears to have altered it course, however its destination port remains Hambantota, #SriLanka pic.twitter.com/z8KtYiDTXf
— Damien Symon (@detresfa_) August 10, 2022
The current track of the vessel as recorded by Norway-based commercial maritime intelligence company Maritime Optima reveals that despite initial turns, YW5 continued its route towards the Hambantota port as on August 11. YW5 stood approximately 638 nautical miles away from the port.
“The government carefully monitors any developments having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests, and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them,” Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters at a press conference in New Delhi.
The Yuan Wang 5 diverting its course back to Hambantota Port (Image Credits: ShipAtlas)
Yuan Wang 5 is the third-generation scientific research ship of Yuan Wang series, owned by the PLA. It entered service on September 29, 2007. Built by Jiangnan Shipyard, the credit of its design goes to the 701st Institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC). China’s YW series (the class of ship that Yuan Wang 5 is in) space tracking ships are also involved in supporting the manned space programme, such as the Shenzhou-13 mission last October.
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