ITF: Shipping companies should step up and end ordeal of seafarers stuck off China

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is calling on the shipping companies to step up and put an end to the ordeal of seafarers stuck off China due to its trade dispute with Australia.

The industry body is aware that the endavour would cost millions of dollars, however, the ITF believes this is the right thing to do.

MSC has set an example for the industry with the recent solution for crew relief of MSC Anastasia bulker via a port stop in Japan.

The move followed months of inaction from the governments and port authorities, so the company had to step in for the sake of the crew’s well being.

The company said that after exhausting all options it advised the master of Anastasia to make a short hop to Japan on 4 February.

Namely, many of the crew members have been at sea for several months longer than was initially anticipated due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions and ultimately inability to sign off in China.

The crew finally came home earlier this week.

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Unfortunately, the bulker Anastasia is one of dozens of ships that became stuck off the coast of China in recent months.

Hundreds of thousands of other seafarers are stuck at sea since crew changes were banned by many governments to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“MSC has led the way by paying the necessary costs and penalties to charterers and cargo owners in order to rescue the crew of their ship, the Anastasia, and see them rescued from their six-month floating prison via a port in Japan,” said ITF President Paddy Crumlin.

“We call on all responsible ship owners to follow MSC’s lead and perform these long-overdue crew changes. It will be costly for these shipping companies, but it is absolutely necessary to preserve the health, lives and human rights of these seafarers.”

“A number of seafarers have already attempted suicide on these ships, desperate to end their ongoing suffering. Health conditions are worsening. Medical supplies are running low on some vessels.”

“We are very concerned to hear reports that in some cases local Chinese authorities have blocked seafarers from accessing medical professionals, including urgently-needed hospitalisations,” Crumlin said.

More than 60 vessels are thought to still be unable to unload their Australian cargoes such as coal and undertake much-needed crew changes of the seafarers.

A rising number of seafarers have been onboard vessels for longer than a year, with some as many as 20 months. Between three and six months of this time has been spent waiting off the Chinese coast.

Crumlin said that a long-term solution still required China to introduce protocols to allow for crew changes for all foreign seafarers. Until China brought in regular crew changes, he said that shipping companies had a humanitarian duty to preserve the lives and welfare of seafarers employed on their ships by diverting ships to neighbouring countries.

“China has failed to put aside its bickering with Australia and respond to this man-made humanitarian disaster just kilometres from its coast. Australia, too, has too often put politics ahead of crew welfare. We call on the industry to step up where the governments have failed: show some leadership and get these desperate people off your ships. MSC has proven it is possible,” he said.