At least 41 Indian sailors aboard two ships have been stranded off the coast in China for over seven months now, with no respite being seen for these sailors in the near future.

The two ships that have been stranded off the coast in China’s Bohai Sea are a Swiss-Italian MV Anastasia and an Indian flag bearing ship known as the Indian bulk carrier Jag Anand. While the Indian Jag Anand has 25 Indian sailors on board the ship, the Swiss-Italian Anastasia has 16 Indians onboard.

These two ships were carrying Australian coking coal to China, but owing to growing economic and political tensions between Australia and China, the Chinese government decided not to offload the coking coal that was being brought in from Australia into China, leaving the crew members of the ship with no option but to stay put with the ship.

These two ships are currently at the Caofeidian anchorage point in Bohai Sea in China and just about 30 km away from the Chinese port of Jingtang.

Government of India is talking with the Chinese government to help bring back these stranded sailors, but China is not budging.

The Sunday Guardian reached out to the crew members who have been stranded on these two ships off the coast of China and they say that they feel exhausted and helpless being stranded for the last seven months.

Gaurav Singh, a resident of Pune and one of the crew members on board the Swiss-Italian MV Anastasia that is currently anchored at the Caofeidian Anchorage point in Chinese waters, told The Sunday Guardian over telephone, “We have been stranded here for the last seven months now; the ship is standing at the same place for all these months. We are mentally exhausted. Most of the crew members here are over 60 years old and many of them are slowly slipping into depression, since there is still no certainty over when we can go back home. Our future looks very bleak. One of our crew members also tried to commit suicide. Please save us, please take us out of here. We want to be with our family, they are also worried.”

Gaurav Singh also said that many of his crew members have started to develop skin problems due to the “contaminated” water supply from the Chinese side and the prolonged stay of the crew on water.

“Many of our crew members have developed skin infections, but there is no medical help here. The Chinese say that unless you go to deathbed, there will be no doctors for you. We cannot stay in this condition any more. Our parents are old and they have also started to worry now. I was supposed to get married in November this year, but that had to be cancelled,” Gaurav Singh said.

He further added that the cargo receivers in China are also not allowing them to move the ship an inch from the anchorage point due to their financial and commercial interests. “They (Chinese importers) are also threatening us that if we move the ship, the Chinese navy will arrest the ship and the crew since, according to them, we are not allowed to legally move the ship unless we deliver the cargo,” Gaurav said.

Not only this, according to crew members on board the ship, at least 60 ships from different countries are stranded off the coast in China and all these ships are carrying commodities from Australia and are not being allowed to offload their cargo at the Chinese port.

Gaurav Singh said that these other ships also have a significant number of Indian sailors on them, but the exact number cannot be ascertained since they are in the high seas and have no internet connectivity to connect with other people.

The Sunday Guardian reached out to the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), which said that they were in touch with the Maritime Administration, the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of External Affairs and that they were getting complete cooperation from the government authorities who were talking with their Chinese counterparts to resolve the stalemate.

Abdulgani Serang, general secretary of NUSI, told The Sunday Guardian, “We have taken up the matter with the highest authorities in India and the Indian embassy in Beijing is also aware of the matter. They are in touch with the Chinese authorities. But the problem is that China is not allowing the crew to de-board and enter China, citing the Covid-19 issue. The Chinese government should allow them to land on Chinese soil so that a crew change can be made possible by the shipping companies, which the companies are ready to make. And the shipping companies have already made alternate arrangements, but China is blocking it.”

Serang further added that the shipping companies were providing regular food and water to the crew members and were taking proper care of the crew members.

“Food, water and their salaries are well taken care of by the companies and I am in touch with the companies as well as the onboard crew. I have also spoken to the crew members recently; we are also providing them with psychological counselling to boost their morale so that they remain in high spirits,” Serang said.

The Sunday Guardian also reached out to the Great Eastern Shipping Companym, which owns the Jag Anand ship, for a response on this report, but did not receive any response until the time the report went to the press.