In a strong message to China and the Maldives, the island nation of Sri Lanka, which expelled a Chinese spy vessel that is now heading to Male has accorded a ceremonial welcome to the Indian Navy Submarine INS Karanj at the Colombo port before its Independence Day. Sri Lanka celebrated its Independence Day on February 4, 2024 and INS Karanj, a diesel electric submarine of the Indian Navy will depart from Colombo the very next day.
INS Karanj docked at the Colombo port ahead of the arrival of Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) research vessel Xiang Yang Hong in Male on February 8, 2024. Maldives President Mohammed Muizzu government on January 23, 2024 accepted China’s diplomatic request to dock at the port of Male disregarding India’s security concerns.
The Sri Lankan government by President Ranil Wickremesinghe has recently decided not to allow Chinese research vessels to dock at Sri Lankan ports and operate in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for a year.
Allowing INS Karanj to dock in Sri Lanka aims at signifying India’s primary security provider in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as well as sending a strong message to China PLAN which has recently increased its activities in the maritime neighbourhood of India
INS Karanj port call to Colombo comes at a time when Sri Lanka has is sitting on the tip of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), putting a yearlong moratorium on foreign research vessels operating in its waters. The moratorium which began on January 1, 2024, is seen as a major diplomatic and strategic win for India that informed the Chinese spy vessels surveying the vast regions of the IOR under the pretext of carrying out scientific tests.
Chinese submarines navigating in the shallow waters of Malacca Strait and through east of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) have been gathering data that is invaluable to them and has caused a lot of amazement for India. Through it research vessels, the Chinese PLAN carried out hydrographic surveys, charted underwater paths for its submarines as well as monitored missiles or satellites test fired from locations in the vicinity. It also keeps a watch on military installations in nearby countries.
Sri Lanka has been under constant pressure by China since Beijing acquired the lease of the Hambantota Port for 99 years. The island nation gave Beijing a port right under India’s nose after it failed to repay the enormous debt acquired by the nation. The situation in the IOR is getting tricky as the Maldivian president Mohamed Muizzu has been opposing India and his government allowing the same Chinese ship to dock at Male.
India has been wary that China could use its ballistic missiles trackers and research surveillance ships allowed by Sri Lanka or Maldives for spying in the name of marine exploration. India is also concerned over the possibility of China building an ocean observatory at Makunudhoo in the Maldives.
In Sri Lanka, the INS Karanj participated in a submarine awareness programme. According to the announcement by the Sri Lankan Navy, the Indian Navy submarine crew were also expected to explore tourist attractions in the country. INS Karanj is a Kalvari class diesel electric submarine based on the Scorpene class submarines. It is designed by the French Naval Group and manufactured by Mazagaon Docks Limited in Mumbai.
As per reports, around 100 nominated personnel of the Sri Lankan Navy were briefed about the submarine onboard. The commanding officer called on Rear Admiral Saman Perera, the commander of the Western Naval Area of the Sri Lankan Navy. India’s envoy to Colombo Santosh Jha also visited the submarine and interacted with the commanding officer Commander Arunabh and his crew.