Nine long-wait vessels have unloaded in China since February 10th

The months-long waits endured by several vessels and crews as a result of a diplomatic dispute between Australia and China appeared to be ameliorating, according to a Bloomberg report.

Bulk carrier Topas (IMO 9474632), which had waited 269 days to offload its cargo, was one of the vessels that China had let unload its cargo of Australian coal.

At one point more than 70 carriers and 1,400 seafarers were stranded off Chinese ports.

The Topas had dropped anchor outside the northeast port of Jingtang in June 2020, The 269-day wait before it finally discharged its cargo earlier in March included a diversion to South Korea, probably to relieve crew. Eight other vessels that waited upwards of 200 days have unloaded at Chinese ports since February 10th.

The reasons behind China’s decisions are invariably opaque. In this case the sino-watchers said that the planned unloadings were less of a loosening of China’s ban on Australian coal and increased restrictions on other goods, and more aimed at showing goodwill to the nations with seafarers stranded on board – the Philippines and India being two major candidates.

It was unclear if the cargoes had been cleared by authorities or were being held in storage on land.

China had come under pressure after the seafarers’ home countries and maritime organizations warned of deteriorating mental health on board the ships. In December, four seafarers on the merchant ship Anastasia were on suicide watch, the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time.

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

China has initially insisted that there was no ban, that the delays were due to Covid-19, and that they were not a response to Australian criticism of China’s treatment of the Uighur minority and (in some media reports) of China’s initial response to the outbreak of Covid-19. The ban on Australian coal has never been publicly acknowledged by Beijing, even though Chinese power stations and steel mills were verbally told to stop using the fuel in mid-October 2020. Authorities also ordered traders to halt purchases of many Australian commodities, including coal, from November 6th.

There were still 46 ships loaded with Australian coal reported as “still waiting” outside Chinese ports. 2011-built, Malta-flagged 51,195 gt Topas is owned by Conti Topas care of manager Bereederungsgesellschaft mbH & Co KG, of Bremen, Germany. It is entered with West of England (European Claims Team) on behalf of Conti 179. Schifffahrts-GmbH & Co. Bulker KG MS “CONTI TOPAS”.