On India's Independence Day, Sri Lanka, Pak warships to hold drills close to its southern coast

This is a day before China’s surveillance ship ‘Yuan Wang 5’ will dock at the Hambantota Port of Sri Lanka
Last Updated : 15 August 2022, 01:24 IST

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When India will celebrate its Independence Day on Monday, a warship of its arch-rival Pakistan will engage in a drill with an advanced offshore patrol vessel of its Indian Ocean neighbour, Sri Lanka, close to its southern coast.

The PNS Taimur of the Pakistan Navy will have a “Passage Exercise” with the SLNS Sindurala of the Sri Lankan Navy while departing the Colombo Port, where it had arrived on August 12 for a formal visit. The drill will include manoeuvring as well as search and rescue exercises and it is aimed at enhancing interoperability and partnership as well as exchanging best practices between the two navies, the Sri Lankan Navy said in a statement issued on Sunday.

The joint drill by the PNS Taimur and the SLNS Sindurala will coincide with the 75th Independence Day of India. It will take place a day before China’s surveillance ship ‘Yuan Wang 5’ will dock at the Hambantota Port of Sri Lanka.

The Yuan Wang 5 is one of the four currently used by the Strategic Support Force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to track satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Its proposed visit to the Hambantota Port, which Sri Lanka leased out to a state-owned company of China in 2016, raised hackles in New Delhi. Sri Lanka deferred the visit of the ship by a few days after India conveyed its security concerns, but has now decided to allow it to dock at the Hambantota Port on Tuesday for refuelling and replenishment of stocks of other essentials.

The PNS Taimur – built by China and later handed over to Pakistan – arrived at the Colombo Port on August 12 after participating in exercises in Malaysia and Cambodia. After Dhaka had denied the Pakistan Navy frigate permission to dock at any port in Bangladesh, Islamabad had requested the Sri Lankan government to allow it to have a stopover at the Colombo Port for replenishment.

New Delhi did not make public if it had conveyed to the Sri Lankan government any security concern over the visit of the PNS Taimur. It, however, did take note of the fact that the Sri Lankan Navy had chosen to deploy its SLNS Sindurala for a “Passage Exercise” with the PNS Taimur off the southern coast of India, that too on a day India would celebrate its 75th Independence Day.

The Sri Lankan Navy, however, sought to play down the drill as “a routine engagement”, stating that it did conduct such ‘Passage Exercises’ with the vessels of foreign navies when they departed the island after making official port calls. “The Sri Lanka Navy has conducted similar Passage Exercises with the navies of countries, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, Germany, UK, Russia and Australia on a number of previous occasions,” it said in a statement on Sunday, dismissing as ‘fallacious’ reports of the SLNS Sindurala conducting “wargames” with the PNS Taimur.

The SLNS Sindurala was built by the Goa Shipyard of India and was inducted into the Sri Lankan Navy in April 2018.

The navies of India and Sri Lanka regularly conduct bilateral drills and the ninth and the latest edition of the SLINEX (Sri-Lanka-India-Naval-Exercise) was held in the Bay of Bengal off Visakhapatnam. The Sri Lankan Navy also occasionally holds bilateral war drills with the Pakistan Navy, apart from Passage Exercises during port calls by each other’s ships.

Sri Lanka drifted into the orbit of China’s geo-political influences over the past few years, triggering security concerns for India.

New Delhi, however, has been trying to claw back much of the strategic space it had lost to China in Sri Lanka over the past few months.

After Sri Lanka plunged into an economic crisis early this year, India has so far provided assistance worth over US $ 3.8 billion to help the cash-strapped island nation and also sent consignments of food, fuel, medicines, fertilisers and other essentials. India is set to hand over a Dornier 228 maritime patrol aircraft to the Indian Ocean nation to help it keep its eyes on its Exclusive Economic Zone and beyond.

Colombo’s move to allow China’s Yuan Wang 5 ship to dock at the Hambantota Port and to deploy SLNS Sindurala for Passage Exercise with PNS Taimur coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the Independence of India has not gone down well with New Delhi. India, however, reached out to President Ranil Wickremesinghe after he took over the top office of the Sri Lankan Government on July 21, following weeks of political instability caused by economic crisis and waves of protest against his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had a bilateral meeting with newly appointed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry at Phnom Penh in Cambodia on the sideline of the ASEAN conclaves on August 4. Jaishankar reassured Sabry of India’s commitment, as a dependable friend and reliable partner, to the economic recovery and well-being of Sri Lanka.

Published 14 August 2022, 16:46 IST

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