Desperation is creeping in among a crew of Indian sailors who are stranded near China because their ship is carrying Australian coal.
Some two dozen sailors have been stranded for almost six months now after unwittingly finding themselves stuck in the middle of an escalating trade conflict between China and Australia.
Chinese authorities have refused to let them dock because their ship carries 160,000 tonnes of Australian coal.
Sailor Virendrsingh Bhosale said the crew was struggling after being stuck at sea for so long.
“We are totally exhausted,” he told SBS News from the Jag Anand ship, which is stranded near the Jingtang Port in northern China.
“You can imagine what we are going through – we have families – we have our children at home – we have parents at home.”
The ship is owned by Indian company Great Eastern Shipping, which says it has made repeated attempts to relieve the crew but has been prevented from doing so by coronavirus restrictions.
The vessel arrived at the Chinese port on 13 June and the crew have not been allowed to leave the ship since.
It had left Gladstone, in central Queensland, with its shipment of coal on 24 May.
Correspondence sent by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – and seen by SBS News – has discussed possible repatriation efforts with the Embassy of India.
But for now, the sailors will remain unintended victims of the trade dispute between Canberra and Beijing.
The International Transport Workers Federation said crew should not spend more than 11 months at sea at a time.
Mr Bhosale said he has served up to 16 months on the ship, even though his contract was meant to end in April.
The engineer said he has been separated from his wife and five-year-old son in India.
“Even sometimes when I call home I cry – literally I cry when I’m talking to my mother or my wife,” he said.
Mr Bhosale said the crew were becoming extremely worried as medications and supplies on board dwindled.
“You can imagine how bad it is – how bad things we are facing here,” he said.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham on Tuesday confirmed there are still a number of vessels carrying coal that are moored off the coast of China.
Mr Birmingham said this has created “great difficulty” for the shipping companies and clearly “very difficult” circumstances for the crews involved.
The International Transport Workers Federation has urged the governments of China, Australia and India to collaborate towards resolving the dispute.
Another vessel, the Anastasia, has also been anchored off the coast of China for almost five months.
The ITF has described the situation aboard the vessels as a brewing “humanitarian crisis” – calling for the crews to be given “urgent relief”.
Great Eastern Shipping last month said it had offered to send the ship to Japan at its own cost but “regrettably, none of our efforts have yielded results so far,” a spokesperson told The Hindu.
The shipping company was contacted for comment.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday called for clarity from China over fresh reports in Chinese state media that Australian coal exports were being blocked.
Trade tensions between Beijing and China have intensified following months of skirmishing.
Exports of cotton, timber, rock lobster, beef, wine and barley have already been targeted by China this year.
Mr Bhosale said he just wants the situation to end so he can see his family.
“When [is] our misery going to end – we don’t know – they still don’t have any answers,” he said.