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China lauds Sri Lankan help in ocean search for crew of capsized boat

By KELUM SHIVANTHA in Colombo | | Updated: 2023-06-08 23:20
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Distinguished guests attend a reception organized by the Chinese embassy in Colombo on June 6 marking Sri Lankan Navy's help for searching the crew of a capsized Chinese fishing vessel in the Indian Ocean last month. KELUM SHIVANTHA / FOR CHINA DAILY

China has conveyed appreciation and gratitude to Sri Lanka, especially to its Navy and divers who participated in search and rescue efforts in the Indian Ocean last month following a disaster involving a capsized Chinese fishing vessel.

"The Chinese people and all the families of the crew members of the fishing boat will always remember this special friendship" of Sri Lanka, said China's Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong at a special reception in Colombo on June 6.

The reception witnessed observance of a minute of silence for the victims of the tragedy — the crew of Lupeng Yuanyu 028, who died or went missing after the vessel capsized at sea in the early hours of May 16.

Also, a special video clip was presented by the Sri Lankan Navy to offer details of the rescue efforts made by its team in the wake of the marine disaster.

Attendees at the reception included Chief of Staff to the President of Sri Lanka and National Security Advisor Sagala Ratnayake; Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Paul Stephens; Sri Lanka's State Minister of Defence Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon; State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya; and Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera, as well as other diplomats and military officials.

During the event, nine divers of the Sri Lankan Navy who participated in the rescue efforts were felicitated for their bravery.

Ambassador Qi praised the crew of the Sri Lankan Navy ship SLNS Vijayabahu, noting that the Sri Lankans were the first to dive into the water and enter the hull of the capsized Chinese fishing vessel, taking a big risk.

China's Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong chats with Chief of Staff to the President of Sri Lanka and National Security Advisor Sagala Ratnayake and other guests at the reception. KELUM SHIVANTHA / FOR CHINA DAILY

The ambassador also thanked the Sri Lankan president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, "for his decisive and timely decision to provide full assistance", and the Sri Lankan defense officials for their immediate response despite the long distance.

"Through this search and rescue operation, we once again feel the fraternal friendship of the government, the people, and the military of Sri Lanka towards China," Qi said. "At a time when global risks and challenges keep emerging, solidarity and cooperation is the only right way forward. Let us join hands to build a community with a shared future for mankind!"

Addressing the gathering, Perera, the Sri Lankan Navy chief, said the mission last month marked the first ever diving operation by the Navy so far from Sri Lanka, and that the Navy was immensely proud to have participated in the search and rescue efforts.

In his speech, Ratnayake, the chief of staff and national security advisor to the Sri Lankan president, also commended the bravery of the Vijayabahu crew, and thanked the Chinese embassy not only for the felicitation of the divers, but for inviting the entire crew of the Sri Lankan ship for the event.

Sri Lanka's assistance in relation to the search and rescue efforts in the Indian Ocean last month was apt given the huge help that China has provided to Sri Lanka in several ways over the years, he said.

"You have helped us through many tough times specially during the (recent economic) crisis that we've had ... Came forward to help us with fuel ... came forward to help us with some humanitarian assistance... and also helped us obtain financing assurances ... for us to secure or sign an agreement with the IMF for the Extended Fund Facility," Ratnayake said.

Sri Lanka has stabilized its economic situation, but the island nation is still in a fragile situation and has "a long way to go", he said.

"We have by September to achieve the debt restructuring. This is what is going to really pave the way for us to go into the next phase, which is to grow our economy again. To be able to do that, we need your assistance again and we look forward to your help in obtaining approvals that are needed," he said, calling for continued Chinese help and support for Sri Lanka's economic revival.

Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera delivers his speech at the reception. KELUM SHIVANTHA / FOR CHINA DAILY

On May 16, the Chinese fishing vessel Lupeng Yuanyu 028 capsized in the central Indian Ocean with 39 Chinese, Indonesian and Filipino crew members on board. China, together with Sri Lanka, Australia, India, Maldives, Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries, carried out joint search and rescue, which covered a total area of nearly 20,000 square nautical miles. China has been extending due appreciation for all the countries' assistance.

Sri Lanka immediately sent Navy ship Vijayabahu and a diving team to the accident site, which was more than 800 nautical miles away.

Divers searched for air pockets within the vessel, in the hope of finding survivors. However, none were found alive. Two bodies were recovered from the ship and another 12 located from various compartments of the vessel, while the rest of the vessel's crew were missing and presumed dead.

The writer, a contributor to China Daily, is the editor of Sri Lanka Mirror news website.

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