Sixteen Indian sailors on board bulk cargo vessel MV Anastasia, who were stranded on Chinese waters for months are set to return home after authorities in Beijing agreed to India’s request to permit a crew change, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday.

“After sustained follow-up by our embassy in Beijing, the Chinese central authorities have conveyed their clearance to the local foreign office in Tangshan and port authorities for the transfer of the crew of MV Anastasia,” foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said during his weekly briefing, ANI reported.

MV Anastasia had anchored at the port of Caofeidian, in China’s Hebei province, on September 20, and was held up there since then as the Chinese authorities did not allow the ship to either dock or go for a crew change, citing coronavirus restrictions. Another vessel, MV Jag Anand, with 23 sailors on board, had anchored at the Jingtang port, also in Hebei, since June 13. However, Jag Anand was allowed a crew change last month, according to PTI.

On Thursday, Srivastava said that the information regarding the permission for crew change has been shared with the shipping company that owns the vessel and they have submitted a request to the local port authorities, PTI reported.

“We hope the crew change can now be effected at the earliest,” Srivastava added.

The foreign ministry had been taking up the matter with Chinese authorities for a while now. Last month, the National Human Rights Commission also took suo motu cognisance of the condition of the stranded sailors and asked the government “to ensure immediate relief”.

In December, China had refused any link between the status of the ships and its bilateral ties with India, which has been under stress due to the border standoff between the two countries in the eastern Ladakh region.