Sailors Stranded for Months as China Refuses to Let Coal Ships Unload

Jag Anand is owned by an Indian company, Great Eastern Shipping. While Great Eastern Shipping kept the crew busy, it said it could not unilaterally leave the ship because the ship was chartered to another company, Cargill, based in Minneapolis. It in turn had rented the Jag Anand to another company.

At the other end of the chain are the buyers of Australian coal on the Jag Anand: the Chinese company Tangshan Baichi Trading. It bought the freight from an Australian supplier, Anglo American. When contacted, Great Eastern Shipping and Cargill said it was the ultimate responsibility of the buyer to decide whether the Jag Anand could leave the port of Jingtang.

“It is a local law that you must get authorization from the port authority to depart. One of the conditions is that you must have authorization from the consignee,” said Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill’s maritime transportation business. He found that the recipient could have sold the cargo to others, which further complicates the approval process.

Phone calls over two days to contact Tangshan Baichi Trading went unanswered.

Anastasia is in a similar situation. It flies the Panamanian flag, but belongs to the Mediterranean shipping company from Switzerland, which has chartered the ship to the Chinese company Jiangsu Steamship. The intended recipient of its coal is E-Commodities Holding, incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Each company in the chain said it only communicated with one or two other parties it dealt with directly, and they often said they weren’t sure about the names of the other parties involved. According to Dean Summers of the Maritime Union of Australia, it is an intentionally complicated system.

“Everyone points to the person next to them and nobody takes responsibility,” he said.

A week ago, when China’s state-run Global Times reported that China’s National Development and Reform Commission had approved 10 major energy companies to import coal “with no release restrictions except Australia,” many in Australia interpreted this as formalizing the unofficial ban on China. (The Global Times article has since been deleted from its website.)

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