Italian ship wins surprise permission to dock in SAR

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 August, 1999, 12:00am

AN Italian warship has been granted permission to dock in Hong Kong harbour.

It is believed to be the first navy vessel to receive clearance since China banned US warship visits after the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in May.

Diplomats expressed surprise that Beijing had approved the visit of the Italian navy training ship Vittorio Veneto, which arrives tomorrow.

Italy is a member of the Nato alliance of the United States and European nations which bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three mainland journalists in May and leading to the ban on visits by US warships.

But a diplomatic source said Beijing was directing its anger over the incident towards the US because it was an American jet that bombed the embassy on a mission planned by Washington, which has claimed it was an accident.

Approval for the ship's visit emphasised the ban on US vessels, the diplomat said.

Eight requests for US warships to dock in Hong Kong for rest and recreation visits have been rejected since the May bombing.

However, two US air force flights, one for a congressional delegation, have been approved.

Two flights by US navy P-3 Orions were rejected, one apparently in retaliation for Washington's decision to sell jet fighter parts and two early-warning aircraft to Taiwan amid the cross-strait tensions.

American diplomats are quietly optimistic that warship visits will again receive approval.

Diplomatic analysts said two applications were at present with the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Hong Kong office and had not been rejected yet, a sign that had raised hopes they may be approved.

The training ship arriving tomorrow is the first Italian navy ship to visit Hong Kong since the return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, said a statement from the Italian Consulate, which noted that Beijing and Rome enjoyed 'excellent relations'.

The ship is carrying 79 cadets, 39 naval academy officers and 16 cadets from other nations.

The ship has also made visits to Singapore and Penang.

The Vittorio Veneto will be docked at Ocean Terminal until Friday and be open to the public in the afternoons.