Panama is urging the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to step in to help stranded seafarers and shipowners wrapped up in a trade dispute between China and Australia.
Some 74 vessels loaded with Australian coal and more than 1,500 mariners are currently idled in Chinese ports and waters after Beijing last year placed an unofficial ban on imports from Australia, reportedly in retaliation for Canberra's call for an international probe of the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the vessels and their crews have been stuck for as long as nine months with seafarers unable to debark due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Panama, the world's largest ship register, called the situation a crisis and asked IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim to mediate and assist seafarers and shipowners.
"Our mission in this regard is to find a reasonable and positive solution for the crew of these ships to return home," said Panamanian maritime minister Arch. Noriel Araúz, adding that the IMO's diplomatic powers "can help us expose before the competent authorities that due to a commercial disagreement, the human rights and wellbeing of the crews of these ships are being ignored."
An International Labor Organization (ILO) committee has stated that under the Maritime Labor Convention a commercial dispute or disagreement should not involve crews, nor prevent their disembarkation, especially if their employment contract has expired or they are on board against their will.