After months of trying and international support, Indian officials announced an agreement to permit one of the vessels caught off China to complete a crew change. Two Indian vessels stranded for months off the coast of China unable to unload shipments of coal they had transported from Australia became the face of the growing humanitarian crisis as a growing armada of vessels found themselves caught in a trade dispute between China and Australia.
In a message posted on Twitter on Saturday, India’s Minister of State for Ports, Shipping & Waterways & Chemicals & Fertilizers Mansukh Mandaviya announced, “Our Seafarers stuck in China are coming back to India!”
One of the vessels that has been waiting off the Chinese port of Jingtang in the northern province of Hebei was cleared to depart after having been at anchor since June 13 waiting to offload its cargo. Under the terms of the agreement worked out between the governments and the Great Eastern Shipping Company, owners of the 179,250 dwt Jag Anand, the vessel left the anchorage on January 10 bounded for Chiba in Japan. Once the COVID-19 protocols have been cleared, the crew of 23 will be flown home to India.
The Jag Anand was considered the priority by the Indian officials as the vessel was the longer of the two in the anchorage and several of her crew members had already been well into their contracts before the voyage began in June. Some reports have said some crew members are aboard the vessel for more than 20 months.
A second bulk carrier, the Anastasia which is operated by MSC Shipping has been in the anchorage near the Caofeidian port in China since September 20. That vessel has 16 Indian nationals in its crew. MSC issued a public appeal on their behalf in December also suggesting that the vessels sail to Japan if China was not going to permit the crew changes. Highlighting the level of desperation among the crew members one aboard the Anastasia attempted suicide a few days ago.
The vessels had found themselves stranded after China refused to let the Australian coal be landed. Observers believe it stems from a trade dispute between China and Australia while China has said the issues were COVID-19 restrictions in many of its ports. Chinese officials had suggested with the Jingtang port closed that the Jag Anand should depart or seek permission from alternate ports to complete a crew change.
The issue came to light when in November when the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) issued an appeal for 10,000 email messages to be sent to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Chinese authorities to highlight the humanitarian crisis. International unions and other organizations responded to the call.
MSC in its role as the operator of one of the vessels noted that it was bound by the charter and international regulations which precluded sailing away from the port. MSC had applied for the ship to go to possibly Hong Kong or Japan if China was not willing to facilitate a crew change.
The Indian government became involved with ministers and their embassies reaching out to their Chinese counterparts. Mandaviya had reported that "Diplomatic talks are going on for this,” suggesting in late December that he thought it could be resolved soon. Recently, the Indian government had suggested that a crew change could be done at sea.
No information was provided if a similar agreement might be possible for the Anastasia to also complete a crew change.
BY THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE 01-11-2021 06:46:05