Indian Seafarer Stranded in China Attempts Suicide

Crew of the Anastasia (Shivraj G / Change.org)

Published Jan 6, 2021 7:31 PM by Ankur Kundu

What began as a trade war between China and India has escalated into a humanitarian crisis. The dispute has caused some 39 Indian seafarers to be stranded in Chinese waters for months now, driving one seafarer to slash his wrists after he was denied permission to return to India to look after his ailing wife and two sons, who have been diagnosed with Covid-19.

The 47-year-old seafarer was initially contracted to serve on board the MSC-owned bulker Anastasia for five months, and his service has now been extended to 13 months. For over a month, he had been desperately trying to get permission to go to his family’s aid, and  desperation drove him to attempt suicide. The Navigating Officer of the ship came to his rescue just in the nick of time.

The heat of the ongoing crisis has been felt by two bulk carriers that have been in the headlines recently - the Anastasia (IMO 9625970) and the Jag Anand, owned by India’s Great Eastern Shipping Company. The two ships have been anchored at Caofeidian and Jingtang ports for 154 days and 207 days, respectively (as of January 7, 2021).

China and India have been engaged in border standoffs for quite some time now, giving rise to an ongoing trade war and diplomatic tensions. China's policy on Indian-flagged vessels came to the forefront when vessels flying other flags were permitted to unload similar bulk cargo and leave during the same period.

The ships arrived during an ongoing trade war between China and Australia, leading China to ban the import of Australian coal. These two ships had been carrying the same cargo.  However, vessels from Russia, Canada, and Europe have since been permitted to offload their Australian coal and depart.

“The ships were refused permission by the Chinese authorities to offload their cargo, and were not even allowed to send other sailors to relieve the crew,” said Priyanka Chaturvedi, a member of India's Rajya Sabha. “The 39 sailors have been left to their fate without much support from the central government, and their families are struggling to get them back.”

The families of the Indian sailors, mostly based in the Indian state of Maharashtra, have been appealing to different government offices but with no help in sight.