China’s marine research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03, for the second time this year, arrived in the Maldives on Thursday, docking at Thilafushi. The reason for the vessel’s return remains unclear, although its previous visit was authorised by the government.

The vessel first visited the Maldives on 22 February after initially spending about a month near and around the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). A few days later, the vessel left the country and once again traversed the EEZ — it has been traversing Maldives’ EEZ, and within the nation’s territorial waters, since January.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese vessel entered the Maldives in February to crew change.

“The Chinese government has formally requested the Maldivian government to allow the vessel to dock in the Maldives for the replacement of the crew and restocking. The vessel will not conduct any research in Maldives,” the Foreign Ministry said on 25 January.

Defence Minister Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon had confirmed to Parliament that the Chinese research vessel would not conduct any research in the Maldives or the country’s territory.

“No research was allowed within the territory of Maldives. They docked in Malé and bought food and made a crew change. The crew arrived by air and boarded the ship and the [departing] crew left by air. That was approved” Maumoon said on 25 March.

China’s Oceanography Institute, which oversees Xiang Yang Hong 3, says it is one of the nation’s most advanced marine research vessels, equipped to undertake an array of research work, with a travel range of 15,000 nautical miles.