A total of 41 Indian seafarers have been stranded on two ships for months unable to dock in Chinese ports and carry out crew changes amid heated tensions between the governments of China and Australia.
The seafarers got in the middle of a debate between the two countries exacerbated by the calls from Australia for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
In response, Beijing reportedly imposed trade embargos on Australia, targeting coal, one of Australia’s key exports, the AFP writes.
The two ships Jag Anand and the Anastasia have been unable to dock since June and August this year, respectively, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said.
There are 23 seafarers on board the Jag Anand, while there are 18 seafarers on the Anastasia.
The ITF urged the governments of China, India, and Australia to collaborate and urgently end the stalemate around the berthing of the coal-carrying vessels in Chinese ports, as some of the seafarers have been on board for over 20 months.
“We have at hand a humanitarian crisis on board where the entire crew is fatigued and requires urgent relief. They are mentally and physically exhausted due to their prolonged time on board,” Abdulgani Y. Serang, General Secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India, said.
“It would be very concerning if the reason that the Chinese authorities are refusing the ships from docking is that it has a cargo of coal from Australia.”
The shipowner is trying to have the cargo discharged and has offered to charter a flight to do the crew change. The Indian government is also trying to help salvage the situation and get the crew home.
“We suggested that if crew change is not possible, then at least the cargo could be discharged so the ship can move on and sign off the crew at the next convenient port. There are even offers from neighbouring countries to buy the coal and help resolve the situation.”
“We are surprised that efforts to take the ship to another country or another Chinese port are being resisted. Whatever the reason for this stalemate, we call on all governments to put aside their disputes and focus on supporting these seafarers to get home and be refreshed by new crew,” said Serang.
ITF Seafarers’ and Inland Navigation Section Coordinator, Fabrizio Barcellona, added that the crew of the Jag Anand had been 15 months on board when they picked up this coal from Australia, well beyond the 11-month limit, due to COVID-19 related extensions.
“Australian authorities should not have allowed the vessels to sail without getting these seafarers home and replacement crew on board,” said Barcellona.
“All governments – be it flag States, port States, or the seafarers’ home countries – need to lift their game to make it easier to perform needed crew changes of this tired and fatigued workforce. Government restrictions and lack of coordination between different government agencies remains the main barrier to getting crew changed.”
In October, the ITF and the International Chamber of Shipping estimated that there were at that point over 400,000 seafarers trapped working aboard the world’s cargo vessels beyond their initial contracts.
The ITF said there were speculations that the number could finally be slowly falling, as more employers perform expensive crew changes.