With sailors from India stuck in two ships anchored off the Jingtang and Caofeidian ports in China for several months now, New Delhi on Thursday subtly alleged that Beijing did not allow the vessels to dock and discharge cargo citing Covid-19 concerns, although the others, which arrived later, had been permitted to do so.
Even as the soldiers of the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are engaged in a stand-off along the disputed boundary between the two nations, a new irritant has emerged in New Delhi’s relations with Beijing. As many as 39 sailors from India are stuck on board the bulk cargo vessels, MV Jag Anand and MV Anastasia, since June 13 and September 20 last respectively, because the port authorities of the communist country did not allow the ships to discharge cargo or change crew.
“There is a considerable amount of stress on the crew members on account of this unprecedented situation,” Anurag Srivastava, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), said in New Delhi.
The MV Jag Anand and the MV Anastasia are at anchorage near the Jingtang Port and the Caofeidian Port in China respectively.
“The Chinese authorities have conveyed that on account of various Covid-19-related restrictions imposed by the local authorities, crew change is not being permitted from these ports,” said the MEA spokesperson. “We also understand, however, that some other ships, which arrived after the Indian ship had arrived, have actually managed to discharge cargo and leave. The reasons for this are not clear.”
The Embassy of India in Beijing is in touch with the authorities in China and has sought “facilitation and assistance, which could lead to an early resolution of the issue and help ameliorate the situation of the crew” of the MV Anastasia and MV Jag Anand.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese government, said in Beijing on Wednesday that the local authorities had responded “in a timely manner” to the appeals from the Government of India and provided the sailors on board the stranded ships “necessary convenience and assistance while adhering to epidemic prevention rules”.
He, however, justified the decision of the local port authorities not to allow the vessels to dock, offload their cargo or change their crew. “In China, there are clear requirements on epidemic prevention and control at ports and on quarantine of crew members. These are all based on science,” said Zhao.
A source in New Delhi said that the Chinese government had not yet clarified how the ships, which had arrived in the ports after the MV Anastasia and MV Jag Anand, had been allowed to dock at the ports, offload cargo and leave as the restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 should have been applied in an unbiased manner.
The MEA spokesperson said that New Delhi had taken note of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese government statement on Wednesday about the "provision of necessary facilitation and assistance” to the sailors stuck in the two vessels.
A few other ships with coal from Australia are also waiting near the ports in China and some of them have onboard sailors from India. A source said that the ships were not allowed to dock at the ports as China banned the import of coal from Australia in the wake of deteriorating relations between Canberra and Beijing.