Lingering restrictions on Chinese crew frustrate Taiwanese shipowners

Flags of Taiwan and China. Credit: Stanford University

Taiwanese shipowners have expressed frustration with their government’s unwillingness to allow entry to mainland Chinese seafarers, even as entry restrictions are lifted for other crew nationalities.

Taiwan banned Chinese nationals from entering the self-ruled island since February 2020, when it became clear that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was spreading beyond China.

Amid growing calls for crew change restrictions to be eased, Taiwan’s Maritime Port Bureau began allowing seafarers of all other nationalities to board vessels in its waters from mid-April. However, seafarers of Chinese nationality were excluded from the relaxed restriction.

Relations between Taiwan and China have been testy, going back to the Nationalists fleeing to the island after their defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Taiwanese shipowning sources, speaking to SAS, said that many of the island’s ship owners believe that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which favours formal independence for Taiwan, is demonstrating its opposition to mainland China.

In view of the difficulties in facilitating crew change, the Maritime Port Bureau agreed that Taiwanese ship owners could extend seafarers’ employment contracts from the customary 12 months to 15 months.

The source said, “The COVID-19 situation appears to be improving in China, and it now appears to be more serious in Europe, the US, and even Singapore. However, there is no problem with seafarers from these more badly affected countries to board vessels in Taiwan. We don’t see any other reason, besides politics.”

The International Maritime Organization has written to all governments, urging that the 1.2 million seafarers worldwide be recognised as essential workers and to allow crew change for the benefit of seafarers’ physical and mental well-being. It is estimated that on average, 100,000 seafarers need to disembark from vessels after completing their employment contracts.