22 JUNE 2021 

For more than a year, leading shipping organizations and charities have been alerting to the hardships faced by seafarers due to the restrictions put in place to control the pandemic. For the second time in a week, news has come out of a deceased seafarer being prevented from being returned home to his family after death due to these restrictions.

The international charity Human Rights at Sea, based in the U.K., is appealing to officials in China and other nations to assist in the reparation of the remains of a captain that have remained trapped aboard his ship for nearly two months.

The master aboard a Liberian-flagged cargo ship, the Vantage Wave, died at sea on April 19, 2021. The charity reports that the captain complained of swollen legs and very low blood pressure after his vessel loaded and sailed from Paradip Port in India. His clinical condition before passing did not indicate any COVID-19 infection, and subsequent medical advice sought by Gard acting on behalf of the vessel’s owners suggests the death was the result of a cardiac arrest.

The 33,477 dwt cargo ship was transporting 25,000 tons of aluminum ingots bound for Huangpu New Port in Guangzhou, China. The vessel arrived at the Outer Guishan Anchorage, China, on May 7, 2021, and more than a month later remains waiting for berthing and discharge instructions.

After the captain’s death, legal, insurance, and Romanian diplomatic efforts were undertaken to arrange for the disembarkation of the body. Human Rights at Sea reports that Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, all refused requests to permit the vessel to dock and offload the captain’s remains for transportation to his home in Romania. They reported that Gard has sought the assistance of local lawyers to no avail.

Chinese officials in the Guangzhou Municipal Government have also so far refused to grant permission for the captain’s body to be disembarked from the ship. This is despite diplomatic and commercial negotiations. The family of the deceased captain also agreed, despite their religious and personal wishes, that they would permit the cremation of the body if that would facilitate his return home.

Chinese officials since 2020 have routinely been denying vessels permission to dock or complete crew changes, citing local COVID-19 restrictions. The plight of the bulk carriers transporting the disputed Australian coal to China made headlines in the fall of 2020 and winter of 2021 as those vessels were also held offshore.

Human Rights Sea reports that the crew trapped offshore on the Vantage Wave are also facing a shortage of food and water after a month at anchor. They are calling on Chinese officials to act to alleviate the crew’s hardships and to provide humanitarian aid for the repatriation of the master’s remains.

This latest incident comes as another vessel, the Ital Libera, arrived back in Italy today after experiencing a similar challenge. The owners of the vessel took the extraordinary step of declaring a force majeure, canceling the commercial voyage and sending the vessel on a mercy mission from Indonesia to Italy to return the body of its Italian captain to his family. In that case, the captain was believed to have died from COVID-19, but even a quarantine period multiple countries refused the requests to permit the captain’s remains to be landed and flow home, despite the intervention of the Italian government.


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