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Opinion

India weighs various options to evacuate sailors stranded in Chinese waters

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India said on Friday it is looking at various options to help 39 Indian sailors stranded on two merchant ships in Chinese waters for months, including a crew change at sea or in a Chinese port, so the men can be brought home.

The Indian sailors are on MV Jag Anand and MV Anastasia, who are transporting Australian coal but have not been allowed to unload their cargo. The situation is believed to be the result of the trade dispute between China and Australia.

The matter has been discussed with the Chinese Foreign Ministry and local provincial authorities, who have been asked to allow ships to dock or allow crew changes, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said, Anurag Srivastava.

MV Jag Anand, a bulk cargo ship with 23 Indian crew, has been at anchor near Jingtang port in Hebei province since June 13, while MV Anastasia has been at anchor near Caofeidian port since September 20. with 16 Indians on board.

The MV Anastasia is exploring the possibility of a crew change at sea at its current anchor point, and the Indian embassy in Beijing wrote to the Chinese authorities on Thursday, proposing this alternative and seeking their approval, Srivastava said.

China’s Foreign Ministry also said in late November that a crew change would not be feasible at Jingtang port and that local authorities would examine shipping companies’ requests for crew rotation at Tianjin port. Following this, shipping companies were asked to quickly submit crew change requests, he said.

“While shipping companies are examining the logistics of moving ships away from their current anchorage points, our embassy is contacting the relevant authorities in Tianjin to obtain docking approvals to facilitate crew changes,” said Srivastava.

“We have also asked the shipping companies to ensure that they submit their crew change plans as soon as possible for the approval of the local Chinese authorities,” he added.

Indian officials have been following the issue of Indian sailors for the past few months. The Indian Ambassador, Vikram Misri, has personally discussed the issue with the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also followed up with the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi.

Srivastava reiterated that there is “increasing stress on crew members due to the long delay.” He said: “Given this and our concern about increasingly difficult conditions for our crew members, these two cases are being vigorously investigated.”

He said that several other ships from different countries were also waiting their turn to unload their cargo at Chinese ports. “Our embassy in Beijing continues to be in close and continuous contact with the Chinese authorities in Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin. The ministry is also following through through the Chinese embassy in New Delhi to obtain an early resolution, ”he said.

“We have taken note of the statements from the Chinese side, expressing its willingness to extend its assistance in this matter. We hope that this assistance will be provided in an urgent, practical and time-bound manner, given the serious humanitarian situation that is developing on board the ships, ”added Srivastava.

The Chinese embassy had recently blamed the trading companies responsible for handling the cargo of the two merchant ships for the plight of the Indian sailors, and said it was providing assistance to the crew members.

The Chinese side has also said that crew changes are not allowed at the Jintang and Caofeidian ports due to restrictions related to Covid-19.

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