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Report of starving Chinese crew members proves untrue
Publication Date : 26-08-2013
On Thursday, my Belgian neighbour Pierre Christians, in his 80s, hurriedly stopped me at his door on my way home, saying local media had repeatedly reported that 11 Chinese sailors were on the brink of starvation in their "blocked" cargo ship in the Antwerp port and their personal freedom had been compromised.
He told me that thanks to the media coverage, charitable organisations decided to deliver assistance. Showing a sincere manner, Christians himself was ready to give a helping hand to the Chinese crew members.
I don't speak French and Dutch, and always have difficulty following my Belgian colleagues' reports. Having sensed my neighbour's concerns, I decided to check on the story.
I first talked to the Chinese embassy in Belgium. Officials there told me that the embassy had sent an emergency team to the port, about 70 km from Brussels, to seek firsthand information.
The team later told local media that the media had exaggerated the dire situation of the Chinese crew, who have been forced to stay in Antwerp since March 14 due to the Taiwan ship owner's financial difficulties.
Chinese Ambassador Liao Liqiang led another team to the freight vessel on Saturday, when I managed to talk with the captain and other sailors.
The brand-new vessel, Ladybug, usually transports China-made new cars and European secondhand automobiles to African countries. The 13-deck ship can carry 7,600 cars.
But the ship was ordered by a Belgian court to dock in Antwerp's port because the ship owner, Taiwan Maritime Transportation Co Ltd, a bulk shipper and energy transportation firm, had filed for bankruptcy protection.
I was impressed with the cleanliness and tidiness of the ship's kitchen. Four huge freezing tanks were filled with meat, fish, vegetables, milk, rice and other supplies. The ship is equipped with dining, sauna and TV rooms, a swimming pool and other facilities.
Wang Zhenfu, 36, the Ladybug captain, said the supplies in the ship are adequate for one month.
Wang said he hopes that the ship owner acts quickly to pay their wages because they haven't been paid since May. And the ship owner should also find ways to let them sail the vessel to Africa where they can unload the used European vehicles.
The vessel has been out of the media spotlight for a while, Wang said. But last week, a new international pact on sailors' rights took effect. Then the International Transport Workers' Federation, which has been following the ship for a long time, sent European media on board to cover the event.
Wang recalled that reporters filmed two crew who were eating but focused only on one plate of food, not the fruit and milk they had. Reporters opened one freezing tank and only took a glance; they interviewed one crew member but only quoted him with one sentence, "I am homesick."
With a combination of a language barrier and the local media's selective coverage, the result was a portrait of hungry Chinese sailors in dire straits.
Wang said he and his colleagues are disappointed in the biased reports. And Wang said even his contact in the ITF was not happy with the coverage. The ITF contact admitted in an e-mail that some of the coverage was not objective, and he suggested that Wang should not conduct interviews with Western media in the future.
As I wrote, I found that love and mistrust have gone hand in hand in this story. For Western media, while the Chinese culture of forgiveness teaches me not to name and shame, they have lost trust from their audience and also their sources due to partial and untrue stories. Their journalistic professionalism has been compromised.
But on top of that, there is love. As my old neighbour and staff in the embassy has demonstrated, helping those in need is a virtue beyond borders.