India has reportedly sought China’s assistance to evacuate the 39 Indian sailors stranded on two merchant vessels in Chinese waters. It has urged the Chinese foreign ministry to allow the ships to dock or a crew change at sea, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said on Friday.
Cargo vessel MV Jag Anand has been on anchorage near Jingtang port in Hebei province of China with 23 Indian sailors since June 13. The other vessel MV Anastasia has been stuck near Caofeidian port since September with 16 crew members on board.
While the Chinese authorities have denied them permission to disembark citing Covid 19-related restrictions, it has been speculated that the situation is an outcome of the trade row between Australia and China since vessels were carrying Australian coal. China formally restricted imports of Australian coal on December 15.
According to reports, more than 1,400 seafarers and about two million tons of Australian coal are stuck on vessels outside Chinese ports.
The External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said the MV Anastasia is exploring the possibility of a crew change at sea at its current point of anchorage, and the Indian embassy in Beijing wrote to Chinese authorities on Thursday, proposing this alternative and seeking approval for it.
Srivastava said that the Indian embassy has been in constant touch with provincial and central government authorities in China.
In November, shipping companies were asked to expeditiously file crew change applications after the Chinese foreign ministry said it is not feasible to allow a crew change at Jingtang port and would consider requests from shipping companies for crew rotation at Tianjin port.
The Indian embassy is in talks with relevant authorities in Tianjin for berthing approvals to facilitate the crew change, while the shipping companies are examining the logistics of sailing the ships away from their current points of anchorage.
Chinese embassy spokesperson Ji Rong said on Twitter on Wednesday that Chinese authorities have been in close communication with the Indian side [and] provided timely assistance [and] necessary supplies to Indian sailors. She said the real “cause of the situation is freight forwarder doesn’t want to adjust plans due to commercial interests”.
Chinese authorities have been in close communication with Indian side&provided timely assistance&necessary supplies to Indian sailors.China has never denied any vessel departure.Real cause of situation is freight forwarder doesn't want to adjust plans due to commercial interests.
— Spokesperson of Chinese Embassy in India (@ChinaSpox_India) December 30, 2020
Srivastava, who had earlier said, that other ships had managed to discharge cargo, maintained on Friday that several other ships from different countries were also awaiting their turn to unload their cargo at Chinese ports.
The pressure on the Indian government to bring back Indian sailors has been rising since several politicians have raised concern. The sailors have been suffering for months in the sub-zero temperatures in the absence of any facilities available at the ships. Reports have revealed many have developed skin diseases due to overexposure to the sea.