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China-Oz Trade Dispute Leaves Indian Seafarers Stranded | India News


NEW DELHI: Ritesh Kumar is the second engineer on MV Skopelos I (a vessel registered in Valletta, Malta and owned and operated by Seascout, Greece). His vessel has been anchored in Bayuquan, China, since September loaded with Australian coal. Since Beijing banned coal imports from Australia, his ship, along with many others, are stranded in various Chinese ports.
“Our ship has nine Indian crew (among other nationalities), including the captain. Some of us have served on the ship for 10 to 14 months, well beyond our contractual periods. Along with our ship, there are more than 70 ships in various Chinese ports, which serve as a floating prison for many other Indian seafarers. ”
Your ship is not in the mind of the Indian government. They are tracking two other ships: an Indian-flagged MV Jag Anand ship that has been anchored near the Jingtang port in Hebei province since June 13 with 23 Indians on board. A second ship, MV Anastasia, which has 16 Indians as a crew, has been anchored near the Caofeidian port since September 20. But there are many other ships that fly under the flags of other nations with Indian crew under their care.
The Chinese government refuses to allow the ships to unload their cargo. The government also refuses to allow crew changes. As a result, many crew members have been on board their ships for more than 16 months, which is not allowed by international maritime regulations.
Ritesh said: “We have not been able to take a shore permit at the ports we have been to due to the pandemic. Communication with families has been limited. This is causing inhumane work environments and mental trauma for seafarers ”. Amitabh Kumar, general director of shipping, said they had spoken with the Chinese maritime authority, but had only received a response from a vice minister.
“The problem is that they cannot go to any other port, unless expressly permitted by the Chinese government. Since their cargo is destined for a Chinese buyer, if these ships leave, they will be arrested, ”said Kumar. “Every week we talk to owners, unions and seafarers to try to do what we can.”
The MEA is now involved in a diplomatic exercise to get the Chinese government to allow a crew change, “but it is complicated because of China’s entry and travel restrictions,” the officials involved said. After many rounds of talks, they said, the Chinese “have outlined a procedure (for crew change), but the rules are designed to thwart the procedure.”
The MEA spokesperson said: “Chinese authorities have communicated that due to various Covid-related restrictions imposed by local authorities, crew changes are not allowed in these ports.” The International Maritime Organization, the main world body that should have intervened, has been aware of the crisis. “But they are not doing much, because it is China,” said an official.
By the way, China allowed three Korean ships carrying similar cargo to dock at its ports, even though they had arrived after the Indian ships.
This is attributed to China’s infinitely better relations with Korea than with India. Meanwhile, China’s ban on Australian coal may be having its inevitable consequences for China: Power outages and power rationing have been reported in certain provinces like Zhejiang and Hunan. But China remains determined to make Australia pay for its opposition to China in recent months. India-China relations are also at an all-time low, which may mean that the growing humanitarian crisis involving seafarers stranded in China’s ports could drag on.

Times of India