The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is urging the governments of China, India and Australia to collaborate and urgently end the stalemate regarding the berthing of the coal-carrying vessels in Chinese ports, as some of the seafarers have been on board for more than 20 months.
A growing trade dispute between Australia and China is taking place since June, with China refusing the shipments of coal into its ports. Now, there are reports that this refusal may expand to timber and possibly other imports.
This has left over 20 vessels loaded with coal waiting outside Chinese ports, while two Indian vessels, in particular, have become the symbol of dispute.
Namely, the Jag Anand and the Anastasia have been unable to dock since June and August this year, respectively.
Abdulgani Y. Serang, General Secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India, highlighted that his union and the ITF have repeatedly raised the issue with the company and official channels through the International Maritime Organisation in recent months.
We have at hand a humanitarian crisis on board where the entire crew is fatigued and requires urgent relief. They are mentally and physically exhausted due to their prolonged time on board
The shipowner has offered to charter a flight to do the crew change, while the Indian government is also trying to help salvage the situation and get the crew home.
Mr. Serang also suggested that if crew change is not possible, then at least the cargo could be discharged so the ship can move on and sign off the crew at the next convenient port.
However, efforts to take the ship to another country or another Chinese port are being resisted.
According to ITF Seafarers’ and Inland Navigation Section Coordinator, Fabrizio Barcellona, the plight of the 23 seafarers on board the Jag Anand and the 18 on the Anastasia has shown how important it is for governments to take action on the crew change crisis before extreme situations like this developed.
All governments – be it flag States, port States, or the seafarers’ home countries – need to lift their game to make it easier to perform needed crew changes of this tired and fatigued workforce. Government restrictions and lack of coordination between different government agencies remains the main barrier to getting crew changed
said Mr. Barcellona.
In October, the ITF and the International Chamber of Shipping estimated that there were at that point more than 400,000 seafarers trapped working aboard the world’s cargo vessels beyond their initial contracts. There is speculation that the number could finally be slowly falling, as more employers perform expensive crew changes.