Ship Forced to Wait 269 Days Finally Unloads Australian Coal in China

A ship that waited nine months is among a handful of vessels that China has let unload their cargoes of Australian coal, a reprieve for some of the seafarers and vessels caught by a trade war that at one point stranded more than 70 carriers and 1,400 mariners.

The Topas dropped anchor outside the northeast port of Jingtang in June of last year and finally discharged her cargo earlier this month, shipping data compiled by Bloomberg shows. The 269-day wait period includes a diversion the vessel made to South Korea, likely to relieve crew. Eight other vessels that waited upwards of 200 days have unloaded at Chinese ports since Feb. 10.

Ship Forced to Wait 269 Days Finally Unloads Australian Coal in China

​Planned unladings are aimed at showing goodwill to nations with stranded seafarers and aren’t a loosening of China’s ban on Australian coal, a person familiar with the situation said last month before the ships began discharging. China’s general administration of customs didn’t respond to a faxed inquiry and it’s unclear if the cargoes are being cleared by authorities or held in storage.

Ship Forced to Wait 269 Days Finally Unloads Australian Coal in China

The stranded mariners have became a flash-point between Beijing and the seafarers’ home countries as maritime organizations warn of deteriorating mental health among crews trapped between authorities who won’t let them unload their cargoes and buyers who won’t let them leave. In December, four seafarers on the merchant ship Anastasia were on suicide watch, the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time.

​In January, steel magnate Naveen Jindal tweeted there was a humanitarian crisis due to 39 stranded Indian seafarers and that he was “ready to buy the coal on these ships if it can help bring our sailors back home.”

At least 10 vessels carrying Australian coal that dropped anchor in China between June and October diverted this year and discharged at Indian ports, shipping data compiled by Bloomberg shows.

While the ban on Australian coal has never been publicly acknowledged by Beijing, Chinese power stations and steel mills were verbally told to stop using the fuel in mid-October. Authorities also ordered traders to halt purchases of a raft of the country’s commodities, including coal, from Nov. 6.

Two more vessels have berthed at Chinese ports this month, although they have yet to discharge, according to the shipping data. Forty-six ships loaded with Australian coal remain waiting outside Chinese ports.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.