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Greek Ship Crew Returns Home after 15 Month China Sea Ordeal

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The seven repatriated crewmen of the ship Angelic Power. Credit: Panhellenic Union of Merchant Navy Seamen (PENEN)

Six Greek members of the crew of the Greek-owned ship Angelic Power and their technical inspector landed in Athens after over 15 months of being held onboard in China due to a financial dispute of the ship owner company.

During their ordeal, they faced shortages of medical and other supplies, as they had no permission to set foot on Chinese soil and their passports had been detained by the ship’s agent.

In April, after many months of coordinated initiatives and actions by the Greek Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Shipping and Island Policy, the Chinese authorities accepted the request for the repatriation of the seven Greek crew members while the Greek Captain and Lieutenant of the ship remain onboard, alongside 13 Filipino crew members.

Stranded and abandoned on foreign seas

The Angelic Power, reportedly owned by Panthalassa Maritime Corporation of the Marshall Islands, has been detained at the port of Guishan, China, since July 2020, after the country refused to allow them to unload their cargo on Chinese territory due to the financial differences between the ship owner and its charterer.

The ship was also banned from sailing out of the port by a court decision.

Earlier in April, the Panhellenic Union of Merchant Navy Seamen (PENEN) had openly blamed the owner’s company of having abandoned the crew without payment, fuel supplies, or any communication with them over the last two months.

“This situation has led the seafarers to psychological and physical exhaustion, while in their repeated calls for medical care, the Chinese authorities have turned a deaf ear and refuse to provide medical assistance to at least five crew members who are proven to have serious health problems,” the announcement continued.

“The seafarers are being used as leverage in the financial disputes between the companies involved,” the statement added.

Repatriation efforts for Greek ship crew continue

The release of most of the Greek crew was finally made possible when the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy of Greece declared the ship abandoned, which opened the way for their return fares and other necessary provisions to be covered by a third party.

“From the first moment that the Court of the People’s Republic of China banned the departure of the ship, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Shipping and Island Policy (of Greece) moved in a coordinated manner not only to achieve the return of Greek seafarers, but also to ensure the living conditions of crew members who have remained on board for more than 15 months,” a joint announcement by the two ministries reads.

Now, attempts continue to repatriate the rest of the unfortunate crew.

The Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy, aided by the Angelikoussis Group of companies and the Onassis Foundation, will be covering the immediate needs of the Greek captain and lieutenant and the 13 Philippino crew for fuel, food and drinking water while they remain on board off China.

The services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Central Office in Athens, the Greek Embassy in Beijing and the Consulate General in Guangzhou, were employed from the beginning to offer all the necessary assistance to the seamen, and their officials were in constant contact with the Chinese authorities, the announcement said.

Commenting on the development, the Greek Minister of Shipping and Island Policy, Giannis Plakiotakis, said that he hopes that soon there will be good news for the rest of the crew.

Seamen’s Union Slams Ministries’ Announcement

In its latest announcement on Friday, however, PENEN complained that the Greek authorities had showed unprecedented negligence and incompetence in allowing a financial dispute of a shipping company/charterer to lead to so many months of detainment for the crew, who they say “fell victim to financial interests resulting in endangering even their own health.”

It also slams the joint announcement of the two Ministries for failing to acknowledge the responsibilities of the shipowning company, “thus implying that the Chinese are the sole responsible party.”

The announcement points out that “the insolvency of the company Panthalassa Shipping was proven again in a previous case with the ship Angelic Glory, which it essentially abandoned outside Hong Kong.

“There, however, the creditor banks took charge of the obligations of the ship,” PENEN notes in its statement.

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