Caixin
Aug 11, 2021 08:27 PM
BUSINESS

After Days Stranded Off China’s Coast, Cargo Ship Crew Members Hospitalized With Covid

Ambulances arrive at a Zhoushan dock and wait to transfer crew members to the designated medical institution for treatment on Thusday. Photo: Xinhua
Ambulances arrive at a Zhoushan dock and wait to transfer crew members to the designated medical institution for treatment on Thusday. Photo: Xinhua

Nearly a dozen crew members of a cargo ship stranded for days off a Zhejiang province city have been hospitalized with Covid-19 and are in stable condition, local authorities said.

The Grand Progress bulk carrier with a crew of 20 Chinese seafarers on board was transporting coal to Nantong, East China’s Jiangsu province, after leaving the Philippines on July 30, according to an account of the incident (link in Chinese) posted Tuesday on WeChat by the Zhoushan government’s publicity department.

On Aug. 3, the vessel was passing by the archipelago city when its engine malfunctioned, forcing the ship to stop for maintenance, which was successful. A few days earlier, several crew members began to develop feverish symptoms and were by then too ill to work.

Also on Aug. 3, the Zhoushan authorities received a request for assistance as the ship was refused permission to dock by Nantong, which is around 200 kilometers north of Zhoushan on the other side of Shanghai. This request was not accepted, with Zhoushan citing anti-epidemic rules, a crew member told Caixin.

Five days later, on Aug. 8, a rescue mission began and the carrier was able to dock at a Zhoushan port, and customs and medical personnel boarded the ship. Sources told Caixin that the Zhoushan authorities took action after a sailor posted a video asking for help online on Aug. 7, which circulated on social media.

Following a screening of the crew, 16 tests came back positive for Covid-19 on Aug. 9. The other four came back negative.

Besides the 11 seafarers who’ve been hospitalized, five infected crew members with less severe symptoms are being treated on board the vessel, where they remain with their four uninfected colleagues.

The bulk carrier, registered in Panama, belongs to Twelve Plus Co. Ltd. and is under the management of Huafeng Ship Management Co. Ltd.

A person familiar with the incident told Caixin that out of the 20 crew members onboard, only one has been vaccinated.

Getting the entire crew vaccinated has been difficult due to inflexible work shifts and the requirement that both jabs must be received at the same port, one seafarer said.

The ship’s crew management company, Tianjin Cross Ocean International Ship Management Co. Ltd., said the crew hasn’t had an opportunity to disembark since boarding in September 2020.

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In a similar case (link in Chinese) on Aug. 3, authorities in the city of Rizhao, East China’s Shandong province, received the Elim Peace bulk carrier from South Korea with 21 Chinese seafarers onboard. A total of 10 crew members tested positive for Covid-19 the next day and were hospitalized.

The incidents have exposed the challenges freight companies face amid the pandemic, particularly when crew members fall ill and often end up being turned away by ports due to Covid restrictions.

The International Maritime Organization, the United Nation’s agency for shipping safety, estimated that some 400,000 seafarers were stranded at sea due to the pandemic in September 2020.

In China, government departments including the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security jointly published guidelines in March 2020 requiring shipping companies to better protect seafarers’ labor rights, including compensation for extended contracts and orderly rotation of crew.

Contact reporter Kelsey Cheng (kelseycheng@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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