Vincentian sailors plying their craft onboard cruise vessels are today ‘stranded’ in Miami amidst COVID-19 forced border and flight restrictions.
Last Monday, one such marooned sailor reached out to Asbert News Network in hopes of provoking a response from the government here.
“There are many Vincentians, I’ve been talking to Vincentians from Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian [Cruise Lines] – I’m on Norwegian right now – and there are plenty more than 800 of us. I can tell that, more than 800 of us out here and we really want to come home … right now the food supply is like shortened because they cannot bring on the amount of food they want from outside.
The food is not up to standard like it used to be but the problem is we just wanna come home, that’s the main thing because it’s not nice out here knowing that you could be exposed at any time to this disease,” the young sailor explained while asking that we withhold his identity.
“At times more than 15 cruise ships a day are rotating between Port Miami and the invisible line three miles off Miami Beach where they are allowed to dump waste, as the industry waits for the COVID-19 pandemic to pass,” MiamiHerald.Com reported. The crewman further described the situation onboard vessels that have been reported across international media as being the de facto homes for cruise ship crews who are “stuck” in Miami as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic worsens.
“We are out here and the company is taking care of everything but the problem is that the company is gonna repatriate everybody, the Filipinos and the Indonesians and the Indians, Brazilians – everyone is leaving. Their governments is opening the borders for chartered flights so that they can go home. [sic] They have a lot of persons in quarantine. So they placed everybody in single cabins for social distancing. The main fact is that we as Vincentians not only Vincentians but Caribbean people feel abandoned by our government – St. Lucians and Grenadians alike. Everyone else government is reaching out to them…”
To further exacerbate an already less than ideal situation, several of the sailors are onboard ships where at least one confirmed COVID-19 case have been announced or crew members are said to present with like symptoms. Some measure of daily testing is conducted, at least onboard the vessel where the Vincentian sailor is quarantined amongst other Eastern Caribbean nationals. “We do tests every morning; we do temperature tests every morning,” he said. The sailor was also under the impression that our borders were closed and that, coupled with their lack of a “link to the Prime Minister,” were the obstacles preventing their eventual return home.
ANN reached out to Prime Minister Gonsalves who promptly named Bishorn John, Chief Executive Officer at the SVG Port Authority, as his government’s point person in the discussions that are underway with the cruise line owners. “Bishon John has been interfacing with the relevant person for me but I told Bishon what I’d like to see. I’d like [the cruise lines] to test all of them for COVID and I’d like to see those results which are certified because we’d want to know – if 200 people descend on us with COVID [how can we cope?]
“In principle I have no problem at all with our nationals coming home, in fact if you are a citizen of a country I don’t think that the government can say that you can’t come home, lock off the borders from you. But in the circumstances, we have to make sure that any persons coming in such large numbers at this time, we have to have the right protocols. You know, they’ have to be tested before coming in and they can’t just say so; it has to be done by somebody independent. So the tests are done, they’re certified and still when they come here they would have to be quarantined for 14 days even though they tested negative for COVID and the company would have to pay for their quarantine and all the associated charges.”
PM Gonsalves further clarified that the quarantine costs to be deferred to the Vincentian sailors’ employers would specifically cover the costs incurred once the seamen and women arrived here. “They’d have to pay for them in a particular facility. I don’t know they might have to hire one or more hotels, and then security and all the rest of it – everything which is incidental. We value very much the men and women who go to sail. But the fact is we have to address this within the context of the capacity for us to take such a large number without we knowing what is their status.” [sic]
According to the Dr. Gonsalves, not only would these sailors have to adhere to the “heightened quarantine protocols” that are being put in place but, “any of them, of course, who have COVID we’d ask them to stay out until they’re tested again to say that they’re free.” Sailors testing positive would be asked to stay wherever they are currently berthing, the Prime Minister confirmed. “I want to know that they’re coming [home] COVID free and even then they’ll have to be quarantined even though they tested COVID free.”
Although PM Gonsalves was unwilling to commit to a particular timeline by which the process would culminate in the sailors’ repatriation he confirmed that “they have been in touch with Bishon John and I just saw on my phone that somebody from the Florida Cruise Association was trying to get me on the phone and left a text message but I’d asked Bishon John to get involved in those discussions…. What I’m concerned about is….
The fact that they’re on the ship; I want to what is their status, how is everything with that and independently verify it, which is quite reasonable in order to protect them and to protect us but noting that they are Vincentians, I wouldn’t lock the door on them.
But it has to be in accordance with certain specific protocols observed of the board kind I’m talking to you about.”