The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is urging the governments of China, India and Australia to collaborate and urgently end the stalemate around the berthing of the coal-carrying vessels in Chinese ports, as some of the seafarers have been on board over 20 months.
The Jag Anand (IMO 9463308) and the Anastasia (IMO 9625970) 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, the ITF Seafarers’ Section Committee Asia-Pacific Vice Chair and an ITF Executive Board member, said 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,” said Serang.
“It would be very concerning if the reason that the Chinese authorities are refusing the ships from docking is that it has a cargo of coal from Australia. It would be like an innocent delivery person being caught in a fight between two neighbours.”
“The shipowner is trying their best to have the ship cargo discharged – they have offered to charter a flight to do the crew change. The Indian government is also trying to help salvage the situation and get the crew home, but the stalemate continues.”
“We 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. There are even offers from neighbouring countries to buy the coal and help resolve the situation.”
“We are surprised that efforts to take the ship to another country or another Chinese port are being resisted. Whatever the reason for this stalemate, we call on all governments to put aside their disputes and focus on supporting these seafarers to get home and be refreshed by new crew,” said Abdulgani Y. Serang.
ITF Seafarers’ and Inland Navigation Section Coordinator, Fabrizio Barcellona, said the plight of the 23 seafarers on board the Jag Anand and the 18 on the Anastasia has shown how important it was for governments to take action on the crew change crisis before extreme situations like this developed.
“The fact is that the crew of the Jag Anand were already 15 months on board when they picked up this coal from Australia. The international maximum is 11 months at sea. The Australian authorities should not have allowed the vessels to sail without getting these seafarers home and replacement crew on board,” said Barcellona.
“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.”
“It shouldn’t have to take a geopolitical dispute for Ministers to realise that there is a major humanitarian crisis on their shores. Having over-contract crew anywhere in the world is unacceptable and a recipe for human and environmental disaster,” concluded Barcellona.
In October, the ITF and the International Chamber of Shipping estimated that there were at that point over 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.