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68 Indian Sailors Stuck in Chinese Waters, Not 39 as Govt Claims: Head of International Maritime Federation

Representative Image: Reuters

Representative Image: Reuters

Jimmy Tandel's father was supposed to be with his family in April last year. Gajanand Tandel started work on the ship 'Anastasia' in July 2019 as an able seaman.

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Suhas Munshi

With each passing day relatives of the sailors stuck in their ships on Chinese waters are growing more anxious. Most of the stranded seafarers were supposed to be back with their families early last year. But a whole year has passed, during which the pandemic broke out and first vaccines to fight it were also administered, and these sailors have yet to return home.

Jimmy Tandel's father was supposed to be with his family in April last year. Gajanand Tandel started work on the ship 'Anastasia' in July 2019 as an able seaman. "But it has been 18 months now on the ship and we still don't know when he will be back," says Jimmy. She says that with the few conversations that she has with her father when the sailors on the ship get access to the internet, she can tell that the crew is physically and mentally exhausted.

"Sometimes my father calls me at 2 in the night. He can't sleep. They are emotionally, mentally quite disturbed. A few days ago he said his hand was hurting. The crew members have been told that unless someone is in critical state, they will not get access to doctors or clinics," Tandel says. She adds that the government has only been paying lip-service so far and that no concrete steps to bring back the stranded Indian sailors have been taken so far.

On Friday the spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava said the government was exploring "various options" to bring back the stranded sailors. "The matter has been taken up with the Chinese foreign ministry and local provincial authorities, who have been requested to allow the ships to dock or for their crews to be allowed to be changed," external affairs ministry spokesperson said. He added that the cases were being "pursued vigorously".

Bindu Wilton's says her husband Joseph who is an electrical officer on board the 'Anastasia', has never stayed away from his family for more than five months at a stretch. At the end of his five month contract, Joseph was supposed to have reached his home by February or March.

"They are all in extreme distress. My husband is emotionally troubled. The uncertainty for us [the families of the stranded crew members] is galling. They have not seen 2020 actually," Bindu says.

She says all unions and human rights organisations advise against extending the stay of seamen for more than 11 months at a stretch. "He has been onboard that ship for 16 months and there is still no concrete sign of his return," Bindu adds.

On Friday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to an MEA secretary and the director general of Shipping in the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways over the issue of stranded Indian sailors.

The NHRC in a statement said it has taken suo motu cognisance of media reports on stranded Indian sailors onboard MV Anastasia and MV Jag Anand in Chinese waters for over 146 days and their difficulties "without any rescue mission in sight". It expected a response from the government within two weeks.

Capt Sanjay Prashar, member, National Shipping Board and chairman, International Maritime Federation, said that it was good to see some positive development "where Chinese at least acknowledge that there is an issue of crew change on their coast with Indian seafarers."

However, he adds that the fundamental problem still remains the same. "The crew change is not happening for at least one month. Indian Embassy talks about two ships and 39 Indian seafarers whereas we know for sure there's 68 seafarers and four ships. The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 to which India and China are signatories seems to have zero value today. It appears that China is ready to redraw the boundaries of fundamental human rights," Capt Prashar said.


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