Dry CargoGreater ChinaOperations

48 ships with Australian coal still stranded off China’s coastline

The number of coal carriers stranded off China with banned Australian coal has ducked under the 50 mark, but still around 1,000 seafarers remain marooned thanks to the ongoing spat between Australia and China.

Canberra and Beijing have seen relations sour significantly over the past year with Australia leading the charge to investigate the origins of the coronavirus. China has slapped bans on a host of Australian products in response.

As of this week, there are 11 capesizes and 37 panamaxes stuck in China, with Australian coal according to the latest data from Braemar ACM and some of these ships have been waiting to discharge since April last year. At its height, Braemar ACM tracked 75 capesize and panamax vessels anchored outside Chinese ports.

Shipmanagers, shipping associations and seafarer unions have been urging governments and relevant shipping parties to resolve the dry bulk standoff on China’s coastline that has stranded so many seafarers.

“Seafarers are caught in the middle of a political dispute… It is vital that politics is put aside and that the human cost of these crises is recognised,” Ben Bailey, director of advocacy and regional engagement at The Mission to Seafarers, told Splash last month.

Researchers at Braemar ACM point out that the coal ban has likely had a positive impact on bulker demand.

“On one hand we have Australian coal travelling further distances to Japan and India. On the other hand, China has diversified its sources to further away, importing South African coal for the first time since 2015, for example,” Braemar ACM stated in a dry bulk update to clients.

Shipping organisation BIMCO also gave a dry bulk update this week in which it noted: “The trade spat between China and Australia continues – and, though tensions may be easing behind the scenes, this does little to help shipowners and operators understand what they can expect in terms of trade between the two countries in the coming months.”

Australian wine, lobster, sugar, fruit, timber and barley are among a range of Australian products banned by Beijing.

In May last year, China imposed an 80.5% tariff on Australian barley. Barley exports from Australia to China had been in decline for the past few years, hitting 1.2m tonnes in 2020, down from 1.6m tonnes in 2019 and 3.9m tonnes in 2018, according to Braemar ACM. Australia’s share of total Chinese imports declined from nearly 100% in 2018 to 59% in 2019 and then to 29% in 2020.

The sudden spike in import duties meant Chinese buyers had to look for other sources. Argentinian barley exports to China have grown by 257% year-on-year to reach 0.5m tonnes in 2020, while Ukraine’s exports have grown by 180% year-on-year to reach 2.5m tonnes last year. Meanwhile, Australian exporters have been forced to find other markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

“Overall, these changes in barley trade have boosted vessel demand by carrying each tonne of cargo over longer distances,” Braemar ACM noted.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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