The crew aboard the bulk carrier Anastasia operated by MSC will be debarking their vessel in Japan ending a six-month stay in Chinese waters and what was being highlighted as a growing humanitarian crisis as part of the larger challenge of completing crew changes in the current restrictive environment.
MSC announced today that it had come to an agreement with the charters of the vessel as well as the authorities to complete the crew change in Japan. The vessel departed on February 4 from China, where it had been anchored off the port of Caofeidian since September, and is now in the Iwakuni anchorage in Hiroshima Bay. MSC expects the crew will be landed and after meeting the Japanese health screening requirements will be repatriated to their home countries.
Most of the 18 crew aboard the Anastasia are Indian nations and have become the center of attention in the ongoing standoff between China and Australia over the importation of coal. The Anastasia arrived in China transporting the coal and like the other vessels has been denied permission to offload the coal or to conduct crew changes.
MSC understands that the company which initially chartered Anastasia from MSC had sub-chartered the vessel to a third party. The commercial parties involved in the selling and buying of the cargo on board were caught in the ensuing political uncertainty around the trade issue.
MSC says that it tried to convince the chartering and commercial parties in control of the vessel and its cargo to allow a crew change in various locations before it arrived in Chinese waters, and again while it was at the anchorage at Caofeidian. Citing COVID-19 precautions, Chinese officials had denied permission for this vessel or any of the other ships from conducting crew changes. Indian government officials and the maritime union had made appeals on humanitarian grounds and recently India’s Foreign Ministry reported that an agreement had been reached for a crew change aboard the Anastasia.
Completing the crew change in Japan, MSC says was the quickest and most efficient way to provide the necessary relief for the crew and to enable the ship to subsequently continue in service as it may be required by the charterers.
Dozens of ships have been stuck off the coast of China in recent months amid the trade dispute, which has created uncertainty over whether cargo merchants could deliver coal to buyers in China. Recently it was reported that China might permit a few ships to unload in a humanitarian gesture although China appears to be holding firm on its ban on Australian coal imports.
The other Indian crew from a second vessel was also permitted to leave their vessel in Japan and returned home last month. Recently, the Italian government also arranged for its sailors from two other ships to be relieved so that they could return home. Globally, however, the challenges of completing crew changes remains an issue for seafarers while the UN and IMO have led the calls to designate seafarers as key workers and to make accommodations to permit their travel.
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