Amidst the pandemic and the crew change crisis there looms another danger for the seafarers as they struggle to survive in the terrible China Australia trade war.
For the past 5 months, sailors of coal ships off the Chinese coast are living like prisoners with water onboard the ships turning vile.
Coal Ban As COVID19 Investigation Revenge
The situation started due to Chinese ban on Australian coal where Beijing stranded more than 70 ships carrying coal on their boast. They further went on to mount pressure on Australia by bullying the sailors who weren’t allowed to dock or leave the ships.
This ban on Australian coal resulted due to a backlash of the Morrison Government’s decision to investigate China’s handling of covid19 back in April when the pandemic started affecting countries like Australia.
No Clean Water, No Contact With Family
Meanwhile, reports have surfaced elaborating on the dire conditions the seafarers are facing with dirty filthy drinking water which has caused rashes and other illnesses. Many of them are suffering from acute depression.
These seafarers are living months without any contact with their families. Their lives have turned upside down due to this fiasco.
Take the example of Gaurav Singh, a navigation officer on the coal ship, who was due to marry in late October after his vessel completed unloading Australian coal to China and he got off his duty.
Several others are sharing a similar fate. A 29-year-old Indian sailor has been stuck at China’s Jintang Port since August 3. He has been serving the ship from Hay Point in Queensland since July 20. His ship MV Anastasia was prevented from unloading the cargo and was told by Beijing officials that the vessel can’t dock or leave the port area.
Crew Getting Suicidal
While the stranded crew repeatedly begs for release Beijing remains unnerved.
According to Navigation Officer, Gaurav Singh their 18 member crew is getting desperate for relief from this trade assault which shows no sign of downgrading. He says that they are pushed for a crime that they haven’t committed which has lead to suicide attempts by the crew stemming from frustration and anger.
‘We are seeking every possible way out, but we are helpless’, he said. The water conditions on the vessel further deteriorated and turned brown after Chinese authorities restocked the ship, revealed Singh. Singh further added how the crew is experiencing body aches, pus-filled rashes with no medical facilities at their disposal. He says that he is fortunate to still survive without any rashes or illness but he fears disease outbreak.
At present, the crew of 16 Indians, 1 Filipino, and 1 Russian seafarer are allowed to make emergency video calls to foreign doctors in case they need health checkups. Singh says the ship feels like a graveyard infiltrated with zombies as they continue to struggle to live. The crew requested and approached numerous authorities for help but no one has heeded so far. ‘We are requesting help from our company, Chinese authorities, the Indian government, Australia… but nobody is helping us’, said Gaurav Singh.
The Navigation Officer further adds that the worst things are coming to his head as he sits in front of a ping-pong table day in day out. He says that he longs to see his family. The crew is surviving like zombies without any smile as if no human is alive.
Can’t Dump the Cargo & Sail
Gaurav Singh’s ship, the MV Anastasia is a Panama flagged vessel owned by a Swiss-Italian Mediterranean Shipping Company. It’s one of the 70 ships stranded in China due to the Australian coal ban. The vessels are carrying a whopping $500million coal cargo. However, they can’t sail to another location unless they unload the coal in China as state-owned Chinese companies have already paid for it, making them the proprietor of the coal
‘We are not pizza delivery boys, we can’t just cancel the order,’ says Singh frustratedly.
Petition To Retrieve the Sailors
Meanwhile, Singh’s family members have formed a change.org petition calling SOS for retrieving the Indian sailors from the floating prisons. So far the petition has received more than 45,000 signatures.
The family urges people to help them get their family members home safely as the trade standoff is getting challenging day by day, jeopardizing the health and sanity of the crew.
China Not Breaching International Treaty?
The ruling party of China hasn’t banned Australian coal officially as it forms the second biggest export industry of the country, bringing $14billion in commodities to China annually.
China has denied any breach of the China-Australia trade agreement which was formed under the World Trade Organisation rules.
Australian Trade Commission’s former chief economist, Professor Tim Harcourt says that China is resorting to its usual ways of blocking commodities like it has done with barley, timber, copper, lobsters, beef, and wine.
Harcourt underlines how China refuse ships to dock on the pretext of delay after delay
‘The ports will say there is a delay and then as soon as the ships go to the dock, they will tell them there is another delay. So they can say they are not refusing, even though in reality they are’, Harcourt said.
‘It’s bad politics and it’s worse economics.’