India weighs various options to evacuate sailors stranded in Chinese waters
India said on Friday it is looking at several options to assist 39 Indian sailors stranded on two merchant vessels in Chinese waters for months, including a crew change at sea or at a Chinese port, so that the men could be brought home.
The Indian sailors are on MV Jag Anand and MV Anastasia which are carrying Australian coal but have not been allowed to discharge their cargo. The situation is believed to be the outcome of the China-Australia trade row.
The matter has been taken up with the Chinese foreign ministry and local provincial authorities, who have been requested to allow the ships to dock or for their crews to be allowed to be changed, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
MV Jag Anand, a bulk cargo vessel with 23 Indian crew members, has been on anchorage near Jingtang port in Hebei province since June 13, while MV Anastasia is on anchorage 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 point of anchorage, and the Indian embassy in Beijing wrote to Chinese authorities on Thursday, proposing this alternative and seeking approval for it, Srivastava said.
The Chinese foreign ministry also said in late November that a crew change wouldn’t be feasible at Jingtang port and that local authorities would examine requests from shipping companies for crew rotation at Tianjin port. Following this, shipping companies were asked to expeditiously file crew change applications, he said.
“While the shipping companies are examining the logistics of sailing the ships away from their current points of anchorage, our embassy is liaising with relevant authorities in Tianjin for berthing approvals to facilitate the crew change,” Srivastava said.
“We have also requested the shipping companies to ensure that they file in their plans for crew change at the earliest for approvals by the local Chinese authorities,” he added.
Indian officials have been following up the issue of the Indian sailors for the past few months. Indian ambassador Vikram Misri has personally taken up the issue with China’s vice foreign minister, and the external affairs ministry has also followed up with the Chinese embassy in New Delhi.
Srivastava reiterated that there is “growing stress on the crew members on account of the long delay”. He said, “Given this and our concern for the increasingly difficult conditions for our crew members, these two cases are being pursued vigorously.”
He said several other ships from different countries were also awaiting their turn to unload their cargo at Chinese ports. “Our embassy in Beijing continues to remain in close and continuous touch with Chinese authorities in Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin. The ministry is also following up through the Chinese embassy in New Delhi for an early resolution,” he said.
“We have noted the statements of the Chinese side, expressing their willingness to extend their assistance in this matter. We expect this assistance will be provided in an urgent, practical and time-bound manner, given the grave humanitarian situation that is developing on board the ships,” Srivastava added.
The Chinese embassy had recently blamed commercial companies responsible for handling the cargo on the two merchant vessels for the predicament of the Indian sailors, and said it was providing assistance to the crew members.
The Chinese side has also said crew change is not permitted at Jintang and Caofeidian ports because of Covid-19-related restrictions.
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