Sri Lanka Ejects Ship Carrying Radioactive Cargo for China

BBC Naples
BBC Naples (file image courtesy Held Shipping)

Published Apr 25, 2021 10:20 PM by Ankur Kundu

Last week was eventful for Sri Lanka’s maritime authorities: on Tuesday night, a ship carrying a radioactive cargo bound for China entered Sri Lanka’s waters and berthed at the port of Hambantota - without declaring the contents of its holds. Sri Lankan authorities swiftly decided to expel the ship.

Sri Lanka's Atomic Energy Regulatory Council said that the ship – the freighter BBC Naples - was asked to leave after authorities found it in the Chinese-run port of Hambantota carrying uranium hexafluoride.

Council Director-General Anil Ranjith told AFP that "the ship failed to declare its dangerous cargo- uranium hexafluoride, and we decided to order it to leave our waters immediately."

He also added that the ship was en route from Rotterdam to an unnamed Chinese port when it encountered technical difficulties and had to enter the port of Hambantota, which is managed by state-owned China Merchants Port Holding Company (CMPort).

Sri Lanka's main opposition leader, Sajith Premadasa, alleged that the Sri Lanka Navy had been prohibited from carrying out inspections onboard. “The local agent of the vessel had not informed the presence of dangerous cargo on board when they sought permission from the harbormaster to enter the port,” Premadasa added.

Sri Lanka's energy ministry said that it would seek penalties for the agent for failing to disclose the nature of the cargo. “Legal action will be taken against Wilhelmsen Meridian Navigation Ltd, the local agent for M.V. BBC Naples for violating the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Act, No. 40 OF 2014,” said the State Ministry of Solar Power, Wind & Hydro Power Generation in a statement. 

The port of Hambantota has been central to the controversy around China's Belt and Road Initiative and “debt-trap” diplomacy. In 2017, Sri Lanka's government said that it was unable to service the $1.4 billion Chinese loan package that paid for the port’s construction, forcing it to sell a controlling stake in Hambantota Port to CMPort for a lease term of 99 years.