The Sri Lankan authorities on Wednesday asked a ship bound for China to leave the southern port of Hambantota. The Antigua-registered ship was allegedly carrying an undeclared radioactive cargo to China. 

“The ship failed to declare its dangerous cargo — uranium hexafluoride — and we decided to order it to leave our waters immediately,” council director-general of the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Authority ( SLAEA), Anil Ranjith told AFP.

Apparently, the authorised local agent of the vessel did not inform the presence of the dangerous materials in the cargo when they sought permission to make an entry at the port. Ranjith informed that it is an offence to enter a port without declaring the material one is carrying (especially if they are harmful or destructive in nature). 

The uranium hexafluoride carrying ship was reportedly managed by the China Merchants Port Holding Company. The ship was travelling from Rotterdam. The exact drop location in China has not been specified yet.  

The Opposition party in Sri Lanka is demanding a serious investigation into the matter. Considering this as a security threat, Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the opposition party has asked not to take such matters lightly. The Government is yet to make a comment on it. 

“The navy has not been allowed to board the vessel to carry out an inspection,” Premadasa said.

Director of the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board, T.M.R Tennakoon said that there was no immediate threat to Sri Lanka from the items present in the ship. He also mentioned that the President has been made aware of the situation.

The Hambantota port

As informed by the Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG), M.V. BBC Naples had entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs. Reportedly the ship had made an emergency call at the port for some repairs.

The port was leased to China in the year 2017 for a period of 99 years. This was after the Colombo government failed to pay the debt of $1.4 million which it borrowed from its Chinese counterparts to build the port. This was a controversial deal and had to be delayed for a long period of time due to the fear that the port would be used by the Chinese military. 

However, an assurance was given that the port would be used for commercial purposes only. The port is a key functional piece in the Indian Ocean shipping lanes. 

The HIPG is a public-private partnership. It is a strategic project between the China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPort) and the Sri Lankan Government. The port has been considered a crucial link in the Chinese landmark project “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which will link ports and roads between China and Europe.