23 Indian sailors docked off Chinese port not allowed to disembark since June
The fate of 23 Indian sailors stuck on a merchant navy ship anchored off a port in northern China appears to be uncertain with Beijing reportedly not allowing them to get off the vessel in the backdrop of increasing imported Covid-19 cases in the country.
The bulk carrier Jag Anand has been anchored off the Jingtang port on Bohai Sea in northern China’s Hebei province since June, putting the physical and mental health of the sailors at risk.
The ship sailed from the port of Gladstone in Australia on May 26 – carrying Australian coal – and reached Jingtang port in China on June 13.
Since that day, the ship has been anchored 2-3 km away from the port.
In April, China’s General Administration of Customs had announced strict management measures for crew members of international ships and flights coming into the country.
In October, China opened up 10 ports for foreign crew exchange while implementing a circuit-breaker mechanism to prevent imported Covid-19 cases – Jingtang, an artificial deep water port, wasn’t among the 10.
Shipping companies have been advised to closely monitor the port’s local quarantine conditions and implement a closed-loop management as per the quarantine requirements issued by the local port, Copenhagen-based BIMCO, an organisation for shipowners, shipbrokers and agents, said in a report in October.
It’s not clear whether the rapidly deteriorating ties between China and Australia also played a part in the situation that the ship and its crew find themselves in.
The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to questions from the Hindustan Times asking about the well-being of the Indian sailors and on the protocols that need to be followed in such cases.
At the regular ministry briefing on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, however, said “convenience” was being provided to the sailors.
“As I understand, China has clear regulations on ports epidemic prevention and control and crew members quarantine requirements and as much as the regulations allow, we are providing convenience for these crew members,” Wang said.
Responding to the question on whether the “…ship has been arrested and denied departure”, Wang declined to share details.
“As for the specifics, I would still refer you to the competent Chinese authorities or relevant local government,” he said.
A report by India’s ANI earlier this week said the 23 Indian crew members on board are seeking help to return home; some are suffering from health issues and the ship is running short of medicines, the report said.
HT has learnt that while the local port authorities have not allowed the “crew change” – whereby a ship’s crew can disembark and head back to their country of origin – it has been communicated to them that anyone needing treatment could be allowed to come ashore temporarily for medical attention.
Many of the crew members have completed their tenure with the company and were expecting to be back home months earlier.
Port authorities have also communicated to the ship that it has the option to sail away from the port or wait its turn – in a queue of multiple ships – to discharge its cargo.
No timeframe, however, has been given when Jag Anand’s turn would come to discharge its cargo.
According to the ANI report, the family members of the crew have written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister S Jaishankar regarding the situation.
“Due to severance of diplomatic ties between China, the Australia vessel is on anchor since June 13. The Customs authorities have not cleared the concerning cargo. At present, most of the crew have ended their stipulated contractual obligation and been on board for more than a year, some of them even exceeding 15 months,” the letter, quoted in the ANI report said.
“Despite various attempts by the company through diplomatic resources, there has been no respite to crew sufferance who have been inflicted with not only physical stress but mental fatigue,” the letter read.