China-Australia Spat Strands 400 Seafarers as Human Crisis Looms

China-Australia Spat Strands 400 Seafarers as Human Crisis Looms

An estimated 400 seafarers and roughly 2 million tons of coal are stuck on ships off the northeast coast of China, as a spiraling diplomatic row with Australia threatens to turn into a humanitarian crisis.

At least 21 bulk carriers are anchored off the Port of Jingtang, unable to offload their Australian coal cargo that could be worth around $200 million, depending on its quality. Fifteen of the ships have been waiting since June, according to an analysis of shipping data conducted by Bloomberg. The remainder have been delayed at least four weeks.

Mumbai-based Great Eastern Shipping Co.’s Jag Anand bulk carrier arrived around mid-June and has been in limbo ever since. China customs hasn’t cleared its cargo, according to a company spokesperson who asked not to be named due to internal policy. Jingtang isn’t allowing crew to get on or off the vessel, citing Covid-related protocols, and the ship’s charterer has refused to allow the vessel to sail to another port to relieve seafarers, said the spokesperson, who declined to name the charterer.

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin acknowledged the plight of one Indian ship berthed near Hebei, telling a briefing Friday that authorities had not restricted the ship from leaving. Wang blamed the situation on the freight-forwarder’s reluctance to adjust sailing plans “due to commercial interests.”