The 23-member crew of the Indian ship Jag Anand arrives in Tokyo from where they will fly to India after passing COVID procedures.
A group of Indian sailors stranded off China’s coast for seven months, caught up in a trade dispute between China and Australia, have been allowed to leave for Japan, union officials said.
Sailors had been stranded outside the Chinese port of Jingtang since mid-June due to a Chinese trade embargo on Australian coal.
The embargo prevented them from reaching China, but maritime law prevented them from taking off with cargo that had been purchased by Chinese merchants.
“Our sailors who were doing their jobs were caught in a political and trade war between Australia and China,” Abdulgani Serang, secretary general of the Indian National Seafarers Union, told the agency. DPA press release.
The 23 crew members of the Indian ship Jag Anand arrived in Tokyo on Monday evening, Serang said. The MarineTraffic ship tracking website also showed the ship docking in Tokyo.
From there, the sailors will fly to India after completing the pandemic procedures.
The ship, with its cargo of Australian coal, was granted passage to Japan last week after the intervention of the Indian government and the shipowner Great Eastern Shipping.
About 55 other ships, along with dozens of other sailors, many of whom are Indians, are still stranded in Chinese waters, Serang said.
Among them is the Anastasia, another Indian crewed vessel carrying Australian coal, which has been at the Chinese anchorage of Caofeidian since September 20.
Relations between Australia and China have become increasingly strained, since Canberra banned Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from setting up a 5G network in Australia.
In response, Beijing has placed a series of trade embargoes on Australia in recent months, including on wine, beef and coal.
Serang expressed optimism that the crew aboard the Anastasia will soon be relieved, thanks to ongoing efforts, including those of her owner, Mediterranean Shipping Company.
Serang said some sailors were on board their ships between 18 and 20 months, having taken up their duties before the pandemic threw the shipping industry into crisis.
“Sailors, including other nationalities, are sort of held captive, in a floating prison for months. It takes a heavy toll on the mental and physical well-being of the crew, ”added Serang.
Anastasia’s navigation officer Gaurav Singh said the sailors were in dire straits. “We’re all losing our heads here,” he told The Times of India recently, adding that a crew member even attempted suicide.
The United Nations highlighted in October an “unprecedented crisis” affecting hundreds of thousands of crew members and maritime workers reeling from COVID-19.
He called on the private sector and others in the shipping industry to do more to address the plight of seafarers around the world.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) estimates that only 150,000 crew members have been changed since March 2020.
“.. That leaves 900,000 sailors, 450,000 each way, to change. It is therefore estimated that some 450,000 seafarers went beyond their contracts on ships, ”said an IMO spokesperson.