Others can offload cargo, but not Indian-crewed ships at Chinese ports: MEA

India on Thursday said foreign vessels had been allowed to enter Chinese ports and discharge their cargo in the months during which two ships with dozens of Indian crew members were prevented from doing so on the grounds of Covid-19-related restrictions.

According to the ministry of external affairs, a total of 39 Indian crew members of two cargo vessels have been stranded in waters off the Chinese ports of Jingtang and Caofeidian for weeks as authorities haven’t allowed the ships to discharge their cargo. Other reports have said there are more Indian crew members on some 20 vessels stuck outside Chinese ports.

The situation is believed to be the outcome of the China-Australia trade row as most of these vessels are carrying Australian coal. Reports have said some 400 seafarers and about two million tons of Australian coal are stuck on vessels outside Chinese ports.

“We understand that some other ships, which arrived after the Indian ships arrived, have actually managed to discharge cargo and leave. The reasons for this are not clear,” ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a weekly news briefing.

He said there were 23 Indian crew members on the bulk cargo vessel MV Jag Anand, in anchorage near Jingtang port in Hebei province since June 13. Another 16 Indian crew members were on the MV Anastasia, in anchorage near Caofeidian port since September 20. Both vessels are waiting to discharge cargo.

Both Jag Anand and Anastasia are carrying Australian coal. Chinese customs haven’t cleared Jag Anand’s cargo and local authorities haven’t allowed the crew to leave the vessel, citing Covid-19-related restrictions. The vessel’s charterer has refused to allow it to sail to another port to relieve the crew.

Anastasia’s second officer, Gaurav Singh, told Australia’s ABC News that mental health issues, lack of medical support and a decline in drinking water quality had compounded the problems of the crew.

Srivastava said: “This unprecedented situation has caused a considerable amount of stress among the crew. Our embassy in Beijing has been in constant touch with provincial and central government authorities in China. They are requesting that the ships be allowed to discharge their cargos and the crew members be allowed to be changed.”

The Chinese have said crew change is not permitted at Jintang and Caofeidian ports because of Covid-19-related restrictions imposed by local authorities, he added.

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday necessary assistance is being provided to the Indian crew members. Srivastava said the Indian mission in Beijing will remain in touch with Chinese authorities to “seek their facilitation and assistance which can lead to an early resolution of the issue and help ameliorate the situation of the crew”.

This development also comes against the backdrop of the India-China border standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh sector, which has taken bilateral ties to an all-time low.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday that local authorities are in communication with the Indian side and provided assistance “while meeting certain quarantine and epidemic prevention requirements”.

However, there was no indication when the Indian seafarers will be allowed to leave their vessels.

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