MSC calls for long-overdue crew change on bulker stuck in China

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is calling for an urgent crew change solution for the bulk carrier Anastasia, which is stuck off the coast of northern China together with dozens of ships in a waiting line near the port of Caofeidian.

Many of the crew members have been at sea for several months longer than was initially anticipated.

The seafarers got in the middle of a debate between the two countries exacerbated by the calls from Australia for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

The company issued requests for crew changes of the Anastasia in Hong Kong in June 2020. A subsequent attempt in early August to change crew in Hong Kong was prohibited due to local authorities’ COVID restrictions.

Japanese authorities later in August approved the vessel to berth at Mitusure Island in Japan, but the request was not implemented.

During the period August to December, further attempts to permit a crew change in Manila, Hong Kong, Singapore and Busan were also refused, including as recently as 17 December 2020 after MSC suggested a potential deviation to Japan for crew change.

“MSC has repeatedly requested during the ship’s voyage that the seafarers onboard should be relieved to return home to their families,” the company said in a statement.

“These proposals have not yet been implemented by the chartering parties which determine the ship’s movements.”

China has prohibited a crew change at Chinese ports due to COVID-19 restrictions and MSC’s mid-December requests for a crew change at anchorage or in Japan, a few days sailing away, have not been carried out.

“As the technical operator of the ship, MSC is very concerned for the well-being of these sailors and is in regular contact with them, and with their families ashore, as well as supplying a clinical psychologist for remote support. “

“After local authorities recently blocked MSC’s attempt to send a doctor to visit the ship in person, the company is currently seeking to remedy this through diplomatic channels.

“MSC is deeply concerned that none of these solutions have worked so far. MSC, as the technical operator of the ship, cannot simply order the master to deviate to a port for a crew change, as the vessel could be arrested as a result,” the report said.

“This would only perpetuate the problem and may result in the crew remaining onboard for even longer than necessary.”

MSC is encouraging governments to take an interest in forging a solution to this growing humanitarian problem, not only for seafarers onboard the Anastasia but also on dozens of other non-MSC vessels in the area which are stuck in a similar situation due to trade issues between China and Australia.

The unofficial ban on Australian coal that has been in place since mid-October, and subsequently usurped by a hard stop on cargoes received after 6 November, has now become semi-official after China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) authorized the lifting of import controls on coal from all origins – except for Australia, as reported by WoodMac.

Chinese coal imports were certainly down in October, falling to 13.7 million tonnes from 18.7 million in September and 25.7 million in October 2019, data from BIMCO shows. Imports of Australian coal fell by 60.4% (-3.8 million tonnes).

It is estimated that around $700 million worth of Australian coal shipments has been stuck off the coast of China.

As reported earlier, two ships Jag Anand and the Anastasia have been unable to dock since June and August this year, respectively, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said.

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Reports from BIMCO indicate that the Australian coal is likely to be substituted with coal from Indonesia. Namely, China is said to have agreed to buy around $ 1.47 billion worth of coal from Indonesia in a three-year time frame. 

“We have brought the matter to the attention of the UN International Maritime Organization, and other international governmental and industry bodies. MSC is grateful to the people onboard, and their families ashore, for the extraordinary patience and courage they have shown and we stand with them in seeking an urgent solution to their situation,” MSC said.

We will continue to support them and ensure that everyone on board continues to receive timely remuneration and is provided with food, water and other essentials.”