China claims US authorities harassed Chinese national crewmembers during a port visit

A report in Chinese media that accused the US Coast Guard and law enforcement of “harassing” Chinese crewmembers during a recent port call in the US, has been followed up by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. It is reported to have expressed “concerns” with US officials, saying that it will “take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.”

In late July the Hong Kong-registered, Chinese-owned, heavy load carrier Zhen Hua 28 (IMO 8700266) made a port call at Jacksonville, Florida. The Chinese media reports described the actions of the USCG and US Customs and Border Protection force “unreasonable searches and harassment.”

USCG members were alleged to have boarded the ship before it docked and stayed with the ship during its arrival. Further, they claimed that crewmembers were questioned if they were members of the Communist Party, the military, or the government. The report asserted that some of the crew members’ personal electronic devices were seized and not returned.

When asked about the media report, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, told reporters in Beijing last week that the crew encountered “unreasonable interrogation and harassment.” He alleged that the US had used various pretexts to set up barriers to the entry of Chinese citizens into the US.

The records confirm that the USCG conducted what was described as a “standard inspection” of the vessel on July 26th, at Jacksonville. Customs and Border Protection claimed that they conducted their  standard examination “given to any foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States”. What seems “standard” for CBP’s attitude to foreign nationals might have appeared to the Chinese to have been excessive, on a par with assuming all foreigners to be criminals, as standard examination includes collecting biometric information on the crewmembers, such as facial images and fingerprints.

The Zhen Hua 28 is a heavy lift carrier often used to transport Chinese cargo cranes to ports around the world. While it is a commercial vessel, reports indicated that it has also participated in PLA military exercises. In February 2021 vessel was reported to have been used in a Chinese Army multi-modal training exercise in the Yellow Sea.

The Chinese reports claimed that the inspections by the US delayed the ship’s operations and caused “significant disruption” to the ship’s subsequent operations and the crew’s regular work and life.

AIS data shows that the vessel departed Jacksonville on August 3, bound for Shanghai.

1988-built, Hong Kong-flagged, 40,015 gt Zhen Hua 28 is owned by Zhen Hua 28 Shipping HKG care of manager Shanghai Zhenhua Shipping Co Ltd of Shanghai, China. It is entered with North Standard (North of England) on behalf of Shanghai Zhenhua port Machinery (Hong Kong) Co Ltd.