The Hippo Spirit, a bulk carrier carrying a consignment of unauthorised fertiliser in the centre of a brewing diplomatic spat between Colombo and Beijing although the former has denied it, was recently spotted off the southern coast of Sri Lanka before disappearing.

Authoritative sources told Counterpoint that the ship’s Master is turning the vessel’s Auto Identification System (AIS), a tracking device, on and off which is why it has been difficult to keep track of its’ location consistently.   Last week the ship was spotted off the Straits of Malacca.

After the 9 / 11 attacks in America, ships have been fitted with AIS to keep track of their location and to be able to identify where it is.

‘It is a violation of maritime regulations to turn the AIS on and off.  It is an offence’, said the source.

The ship is reported to have left the port of Qingdao in East China’s Shandong province on around the 22 of September and was scheduled to arrive in Colombo approximately one month later with thousands of metric tons of organic fertilizer.

Sri Lanka has now said it does not want the fertilizer after earlier sample tests from the same supplier showed it is contaminated with harmful pathogens.

Sri Lankan authorities are on alert after the Director General of the Agriculture Department Dr Ajantha De Silva, whose approval is needed for the ship to enter the country, gave strict orders not to allow it in because the fertiliser has been shipped without the authority of the National Plant Quarantine Service and poses a phytosanitory risk and a high biosecurity threat.

In a letter he sent to the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Port Authority on 22. 10 Dr De Silva said ‘Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd. China has sent an email on 22. 10. 2021 informing me that the vessel containing a bulk quantity of organic fertiliser is to arrive at Seaport Colombo today (22. 10 2021). Importation of plant commodities including organic fertiliser requires import permits issued by National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS) as per the legislative provision given in the Plant Protection Act No.35 of 1999. This is to inform you that National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS) of the Department of Agriculture has not issued any import permit for bulk importation of organic fertiliser whatsoever’.

The letter went on to say that ‘organic fertiliser samples previously received from the above company have been tested and found infected with harmful organisms to Sri Lankan agriculture. Therefore NPQS did not issue an import permit particularly for this company for bulk quantities’.

Dr De Silva also wrote that the ‘bulk quantity of organic fertiliser has been shipped without the authority of import permit issued by NPQS violating the international and national phytosanitory legislation and possessing Sri Lanka into high biosecurity risk’.

He ends the letter stating that ‘taking these critical facts in to your thorough consideration I kindly request you to take immediate action to prevent the berth of this vessel at the Colombo Seaport and also not to discharge any of the organic fertiliser into Sri Lankan territory since this organic fertiliser carries huge potential phytosanitory risk to Sri Lanka. Your prompt action to assure the bio-security of Sri Lanka is deeply appreciated’.


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