China on Wednesday said that it had never denied any vessel departure and that the real reason for two Indian ships being stranded in Chinese waters was that the freight forwarder did not want to adjust plans for the sake of commercial interests.

Thirty-nine Indian sailors on board bulk cargo vessels MV Jag Anand and MV Anastasia have been stranded in Jingtang and Caofeidian ports for several months now.

The statement came hours after Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways Mansukh Mandaviya said at a Cabinet briefing that the stranded Indian sailors would be back soon. “Diplomatic talks are going on for this successfully. Our seafarers will come to India soon,” Mandaviya said, according to the Hindustan Times.

On Wednesday, Ji Rong, the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India, said Chinese authorities were in close communication with the Indian side and were providing timely assistance and necessary supplies to the Indian sailors. “China has never denied any vessel departure,” Ji said. “Real cause of situation is freight forwarder doesn’t want to adjust plans due to commercial interests.”

Twenty-three Indian sailors were on board MV Jag Anand, which has been anchored near Jingtang port in China’s Hebei province since June 13. Meanwhile, 16 others were on MV Anastasia, which has been off the port of Caofeidian, also in Hebei, since September 20. Beijing has not allowed the vessels to change crew members to be replaced and stopped them from disembarking due to coronavirus restrictions, India’s Ministry of External Affairs had said earlier in December.

On December 23, China has said that it was in touch with Indian authorities regarding the condition of the Indian sailors on board the cargo vessels MV Jag Anand and MV Anastasia. “China has explicit stipulations on the epidemic control measures and quarantine of seafarers at ports,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian had said at that time. “The local authorities of China have been in close communication with Indian side and replied to their requests in a timely manner. We also provide necessary facilitation and assistance while meeting certain quarantine and epidemic prevention requirements.”

Both India and China have been engaged in a standoff since early May along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. The discussions to resolve it hit a stalemate after some initial disengagement. Both sides have made preparations to maintain thousands of troops and equipment in sub-zero conditions.