hastings bulk carrier coal ships shipping iron ore newcastle

Coal ships wait to be loaded at the world's biggest coal export terminal in Newcastle, located north of Sydney in this March 11, 2007 file photograph: REUTERS/David Gray

China Set to Unload Some Stranded Australian Coal Amid Ban

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February 8, 2021

(Bloomberg) —

China plans to allow some stranded Australian coal shipments to unload despite ongoing curbs on imports, a move aimed at showing goodwill to countries with seafarers stuck on the vessels, a person familiar with the situation said.

The measure doesn’t mean China is loosening its ban on Australian coal imports and it’s uncertain if the deliveries will be cleared by customs, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

Some ships may be allowed to change crews when they unload, an action that’ll help seafarers from nations including India who’ve been stranded at sea for months, said the person. China’s customs administration didn’t immediately respond to a fax seeking comment and Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing on Monday that he wasn’t aware of the situation.

It’s also unclear how many ships will be allowed to unload. Some 61 bulk carriers are waiting to discharge Australian coal outside Chinese ports, shipping data compiled by Bloomberg show. The ships and seafarers, some of whom have been in limbo for months, have been trapped between authorities who won’t let them unload and buyers who won’t let them leave.

As the standoff has lengthened, humanitarian concerns for the approximately 1,200 stranded mariners have deepened. A seafarer on the Anastasia vessel attempted suicide, Seatrade Maritime News reported last month.

Some shipowners and charterers are negotiating with cargo owners to divert vessels to foreign ports to relieve the exhausted workers.

Cargill Inc. and Great Eastern Shipping, the lead charterer and owner of the Jag Anand vessel, jointly covered the cost of diverting the ship to Japan for a crew swap after the carrier waited for months to discharge in China. Cargill said in a statement that diverting a vessel to relieve seafarers involves multiple costs “which would equate to millions of dollars per ship” and vary depending on the situation.

Oldendorff Carriers paid operational and crew-change costs associated with diverting two of its ships — the Caroline Oldendorff and Topas vessels — to other countries to swap crews, the company said. Both vessels have since returned to China and resumed waiting to unload their cargo.

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.

–With assistance from Kevin Varley, Winnie Zhu, Martin Ritchie, Krystal Chia and Colum Murphy.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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