Twenty-three Indian crew on board a bulk carrier owned by the Great Eastern Shipping Co Ltd are stuck at a Chinese port for close to five months, waiting to discharge coking coal and sail off to a port where they can sign off after spending time at sea much beyond their contractual period.
It clearly shows how fleet owners and managers continue to grapple with staff swap on board ships after the pandemic threw this key activity out of gear since March despite calls from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the industry bodies to treat seafarers as “key workers” to smoothen crew change globally.
‘M V Jag Anand’, a 180,000-ton bulk-carrier, owned by India’s biggest private ocean carrier, arrived at the port of Jintang in North China on 13 June to discharge coking coal loaded from Australia.
The ship has been waiting at anchorage ever since, and the delay in berthing has been attributed to lack of import clearance by the Chinese Customs.
Consequently, service contracts of all crew on board have long expired, said a shipping industry source familiar with the matter. Two officers on board have completed 17 months while some other crew members are sailing for more than 13 months. Due to Covid-19 pandemic, the ship’s crew could not be signed off on her previous voyages.
The plight of the crew on board
The foreign crew is not allowed to sign off in China, nor allowed to go ashore. Only in case of a specified medical emergency such as heart attack or a severe accident on board, a crew member can be taken ashore after a doctor certifies.
Some of the crew have medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, and a few others have other ailments and injuries. One crew has lost a loved one at home. Close family members of some others are seriously ill.
“The concerned crew members, therefore, needs to be with the family during the hour of crisis. It is impossible for us to arrange sign off even in such deserving cases under the prevailing ban in China on crew sign off,” a spokesperson for the Great Eastern Shipping Co said.
“The situation on board is truly grim and extremely concerning. The crew on board are suffering from severe fatigue and stress” the spokesperson said.
The Great Eastern Shipping Company has made several efforts to get crew relieved, including appealing to the Indian consulate, crew union, international bodies like BIMCO and IMO and ministries in the Government, to enable crew sign off purely on humanitarian grounds.
The company says it has also tried to find a working solution with the charterers of the ship. “We even offered to deviate the ship to Japan at our cost after we succeeded in obtaining Japanese port authorities’ permission for a crew change in Japan under these distress conditions. Regrettably, none of our efforts have yielded results so far,” the spokesperson added.