Scott Morrison – ‘Human life means nothing for them’: China shipping crisis deepens
Gaurav Singh, a second officer on the Anastasia, which has been waiting to unload at Caofeidian for months, said no one except his colleague with the broken hand had been allowed off the vessel because they were not “on their death bed”.
On another ship with unknown cargo at the same port, Caofeidian, the captain filmed a video that was posted on social media under a crew member’s name after trying and failing to get a chief engineer who he said was vomiting blood to hospital.
China’s Foreign Ministry has previously said crew movements are governed by coronavirus protocols and that the country was providing assistance and support to crews in line with its rules.
The engineer, the captain said, was eventually allowed to go to hospital after 12 hours waiting, but was seen by a doctor in the ambulance and then returned to the ship with his ultimate disembarkation uncertain.
“Human life means nothing for them,” said the captain, who identified himself in the video posted on January 20 only as Captain Timur. “We are seafarers, spending our lives on board in order to bring goods to your house … what do we get? We are not even allowed to go ashore. We are not allowed to be ill … we just have to die.”
According to marine tracking firm Oceanbolt, there are 60 vessels waiting to discharge Australian coal in China, with some waiting since June last year. Some seafarers on board have not gone home in two years and have complained of suicidal thoughts, skin lesions and other illnesses.
Hopes were raised that the impasse would be resolved after the Indian government negotiated the passage of one ship, the Jag Anand, to Japan on January 18. But other Chinese importers, which have had the coal blocked from entering China, have refused to on-sell their cargo to other ports at discount prices. The Mediterranean Shipping Company, the technical operator of the Anastasia, has said that they can not order the master to deviate to a port for a crew change, as the vessel could be arrested as a result.
National Union of Seafarers of India general secretary Abdulgani Serang said negotiations were underway to “at least let the ships discharge the cargo which came in China before the ban was announced”. China’s government has not officially acknowledged the coal block but state media confirmed on December 14 that the National Development and Reform Commission had put restrictions on Australian coal.
Paddy Crumlin, the national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia and the International Transport Workers Federation, blamed both the China and Australian governments for the seafarer’s plight.
“My problem is [Prime Minister Scott] Morrison doesn’t seem to understand the nature of shipping and how vulnerable Australia is by giving cheek and grandstanding in an area where Australia’s got no leverage with its major trading partner,” Mr Crumlin said.
He argued Australia had overstated the value of its commodities to China and given away leverage by letting Chinese importers control shipping to the country over decades, rather than transporting goods in Australian owned and flagged vessels.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan and his predecessor Simon Birmingham have made representations to Beijing since last year in an attempt to find a solution to the situation.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the Australian government has made a number of representations to the Chinese government on the welfare of crew on vessels off the coast of China, the most recent on January 29.
“The Chinese government is aware of our concerns in relation to the delays in processing Australian exports, including coal, and the welfare of the crew on vessels carrying Australian exports,” he said.
“The current impasse involves private commercial arrangements and we urge all parties to reach a resolution as soon as possible.”
Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.