Some 41 Indian sailors, two ships abroad, have been stranded in Chinese waters for more than a year. But it is not the pandemic that has left them in this state. A
The families of the sailors, some of whom live in Mumbai, are desperately trying to get them home. They have contacted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Interior Minister Amit Shah, officials from the Foreign Ministry and various international maritime agencies, but say nothing is being done.
Among other things, families are concerned about the mental state of the sailors. Isolation, as we all know by now, can be devastating. It can affect your sleep patterns, affect your reasoning ability, and put you in deep stress and depression. With the openness of things, people rush out of their homes after being locked up for so long. But the sailors have nowhere to go. While the pandemic and contingent travel restrictions will end at some point, a trade war, such as the one in which ships are trapped, is far more unpredictable.
The Anastasia has been docked at the Caofeidian anchorage in the Bohai Sea in China since August 2019. The 18 Indian crew members, who were due to be relieved after their six or nine months of service, found their time unexpectedly extended when the pandemic hit and borders were closed. This forced many, such as Wilton Joseph, 58, an electrical officer on the ship, to extend their contracts.
The bulk vessel, owned by the Swiss-Italian Mediterranean Shipping Company, left the port of Hay Point in Queensland, Australia, in June 2019, with a cargo of coal.
When Joseph informed his Mulund family that he was stranded on the ship, he had already timed nine months, three months longer than the time specified in his typical contracts. International labor standards stipulate a maximum of 11 months at sea for maritime workers, and Joseph’s wife Bindu assumed this latest trip from Australia to China meant her husband would be home by August at the latest. In October, Bindu and Joseph’s elderly parents began to realize that it might be a while before he returned home.
Around the time Anastasia left Australia, the Indian bulk carrier MV Jag Anand, which has 23 Indian sailors on board, anchored in the Chinese port of Jingtang. It was denied permission to unload its cargo of around 1.6 lakh tonnes of Australian coking coal. This was in response to political and economic tensions between the two nations, which have been intensifying for some time.
In 2017, Australia banned foreign political donations citing reports of Chinese attempts to influence the political process in Canberra. The following year, it banned Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G network, and subsequently blocked 10 massive Chinese investment deals in Australia. The country has also openly criticized China’s actions in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea. This year, when Australia supported calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, it was the last straw for China.
In May, China curbed Australian beef imports and subsequently imposed embargoes on several Australian staples, including coal. In November, Chinese government spokesman Zhao Lijian announced that Australia “has repeatedly made erroneous statements and actions on issues relating to China’s fundamental interests.” But the source of the shipment is not the only problem. Another bone of contention is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, an informal alliance between the United States, Japan, Australia and India. The group’s purpose is to oppose China’s attempts to control strategic waterways through the South China Sea. It goes without saying that China is not in favor of it.
Anastasia and Jag Anand are not the only victims of these diplomatic disputes. In November, Bloomberg reported that more than $ 500 million worth of Australian coal is trapped in 66 ships anchored in Chinese ports. Recently, two such ships, the Dong-A Eos and the Dong-A Astrea, were allowed to unload their cargo at Jingtang.
Second engineer Anand Fernandes, who has been on the Anastasia for 13 months, has found out about this, but has no hope. The 45-year-old, whose parents, brother, wife and 12-year-old son eagerly await his return to their Vasai home, says: “They [the authorities] They say they are trying, but nothing happens. They tell us what will happen today, maybe tomorrow, but nothing. And there is no clarity. “Fernandes’s family is concerned about his state of mind.” I am also concerned about my family, “he says.” Our government must talk to the Chinese government and obtain authorization for our ships, as the We have sent a request to the PMO, Amit Shah and others, but it seems that there will be no help, “says Fernandes.
On the other hand, China’s border clash with India has prompted greater cooperation between India and Australia. An article in the South China Morning Post quotes Vinay Kaura, assistant professor in the Department of International Affairs and Security Studies, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Rajasthan, saying: “India and Australia are trying to act together to make sure your business isn’t held hostage to China’s intimidation tactics. With the emergence of a new ‘Cold War’, there is a great possibility of [a] decoupling of trade relations between China and many countries. ”
Meanwhile, for the sailors and their families, each day begins with hope and ends in despair. “I feel like a prisoner,” Joseph tells Mirror. “The company has been providing us, but we are physically and mentally exhausted. We have to go home. “Jackson Fernando from Tamil Nadu says his 38-year-old brother Louis Raja has been in Anastasia for 16 months.” He has two children, ages eight and five, and he misses them. He understands that if it weren’t for the pandemic, he would have been relieved by now. But that doesn’t alleviate his condition, “says Raja.
On November 18, the International Federation of Transport Workers sent a message to the media to draw attention to the issue. Abdulgani Serang, general secretary of the National Seafarers Union of India and a member of the ITF executive board, has raised the issue with shipping companies and authorities through the International Maritime Organization. A press release issued by the ITF quotes him as saying: “The shipowners have done everything possible to get the cargo off the ship. They have offered to charter a flight to do the crew change … if a crew change is not possible, at least the cargo should be unloaded so the ship can enter and unload the crew at the next convenient port. There are even offers from neighboring countries to buy coal and help resolve the situation ”.
However, the impasse continues and it does not surprise Kaura. “I am sure the merchant company must have exhausted all diplomatic options to persuade the Chinese to let them return or at least [have] a crew change. Given that trade and diplomatic relations between China and Australia have been significantly strained, and India has also demonstrated its determination to confront China’s aggressive stance on the border of the dispute, the possibility that these factors cannot be ruled out they may be behind China’s stubbornness, ”he says.
Savitri Singh, the 70-year-old mother of Gaurav Singh, 28, one of the sailors on the Anastasia, collapsed while talking to Mirror. A couple of weeks ago, Gaurav’s brother-in-law, Shivraj G, started a change. org to draw attention to this, but Savitri’s hope is fading fast. “It has been 13 months since Gaurav last set foot on the ground. I know it’s miserable. How can I breathe easy when my child is in this state? “she asks. The family has spoken with the Indian embassy and has approached various officials,” but they just say that we are working on it, and it has been months … I can’t sleep because I am very worried about him. He is broken. He feels like he will never see his family again. If something happens, they will just say they are sorry, but I will lose my son, “says Savitri.
The Mirror made several attempts to contact NUSI and the office of Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, but received no response. “It seems like the whole world has given up on us,” says Singh.
Kaura believes that Beijing should be more humane in this regard. “They must allow the unfortunate sailors to return to India, as they have been on board for a long time. China’s coercive and uncooperative attitude will further antagonize the Indian public opinion, and any victim will put more barriers in normalizing ties, ”he says. After all, these are civilians, not soldiers; they cannot become victims of the political and economic parliament.
The shipowners have offered to charter a flight to make the crew change … If that is not possible, then the cargo must be unloaded so that the ship can sign the crew off at the next port.
–Abdulgani Serang, Secretary General, NUSI