New Internationalist

China arms ship: union says ‘return to China only option’

This is a press release from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), dated 22 April 2008


The ITF, which has mobilised workers across Southern Africa to oppose any transfer of the An Yue Jiang’s load of arms [originally destined for Zimbabwe], today stated that a return of the ship to China is the only realistic option for the Chinese Government to take. The ITF believes the vessel is currently off the coast of South Africa en route to the ports of Luanda or Lobito in Angola, traveling at reduced speed to conserve fuel, and likely to arrive later this week.

The London-based global union federation does not rule out the possibility that the ship could still receive a change of orders to put into a Namibian port to refuel or even attempt transshipment of the goods at sea, and continues to lobby the South African, Angolan and Namibian Governments to follow the lead of their own workers and unions and declare that any assistance will be limited to that necessary to return the 28 crew members to their homes - and the cargo of ammunition to its point of origin, thousands of miles from Zimbabwe.

ITF General Secretary David Cockroft commented: ‘There’s only one place for this cargo to be now, and that’s China. Its shipment of death has no place in the hands of Zimbabwe’s teetering and thuggish government. Once again we call on the Chinese authorities to recognise that it’s time to bring this ship and its crew home. The ITF are meeting with its owners tomorrow and we hope to receive their promise that they will do the sensible thing - send it to the nearest port to refuel and take on supplies, then get it back to China. Until those assurances are received and we see those arms being removed from Mugabe’s grasp, we will continue to organise opposition and to shame those who failed to act, and instead left it to trade unionists, to the Southern African Litigation Centre and to the Southern African Bishops’ Conference to do what common decency demanded.’

The vessel is a general cargo ship built in 1986 and sails under the Chinese flag (PRC), with a crew of 28 Chinese seafarers. It is owned by the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO) and managed by COSCO Guangzhou. COSCO is a vast company founded in 1961 and has its headquarters in Beijing. It owns some 667 vessels, 147 of them newbuildings. The COSCO website states that it is worth US$17bn and has some 80,000 employees. It specialises in shipping and logistics.


The ITF is a global federation of 654 unions from 148 countries representing 4,418,455 workers worldwide.

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About the author

David Ransom a New Internationalist contributor

David Ransom joined New Internationalist in 1989 and wrote on a range of issues, from green justice to the current financial crisis, before retiring in 2009. He was a close friend of Blair Peach, once worked as a banker in Uruguay and continued to contribute to New Internationalist as a freelancer until shortly before his death in February 2016. He lived on a barge on the waterways of England’s West Country.

His publications include License to Kill on the death of Blair Peach in 1979 and The No Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade. He also co-edited, with Vanessa Baird, People First Economics.

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