Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said the issue of “nationals who are overseas” during this current coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health matter but also a security concern.
Speaking on the “Shake Up” radio programme on Tuesday April 28th, Dr. Gonsalves who is also the National Security Minister assured the public that he and his government was doing its best to assist in the return of crew men and women, seafarers, students and other individuals who have expressed a desire to return.
Coining his catch phrase that, “citizenship should count for something” the leader of this country said it was critical to facilitate the return of nationals, but that it must be done in a way which takes care of all protocols and other requisites.
The Prime Minister emphasized that the cruise lines have an international legal responsibility to bring crew members home and to assist them in the period where they have to make sure that they are free of COVID.
His statement comes particularly as there have been concerns over the scheduling and re-scheduling of the return of over 300 crew workers on various cruise lines, whom he said have obligations under certain international law, the international labour convention and the maritime labour convention of 2006 which was amended.
He continued, “I am hopeful that, that we will be able to work out with all the cruise lines, a good process and so that we don’t have to inveigh on “rights.”
He called on everyone, including the cruise lines to “work accordingly” as he vowed to assiduously champion the rights of Vincentians.
He reiterated, “Let me make it very clear to everybody that is listening to me. The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines headed by Ralph Gonsalves will protect our nationals in defence of their rights, if employers, including employers – including cruise ship owners; and if they do not abide by their own obligations to our nationals who are working on cruise ships. We are a fair and reasonable government but I just want to make the point. If we cannot come to a amicable understanding we will insist on our rights, the rights of our nationals.”
As it relates to criticism he and his government has been receiving over the handling of the issue, Dr. Gonsalves delivered a tongue lashing. He chided, “It doesn’t matter me whether some cruise some crew members from St. Vincent and the Grenadines want to take the side of this or that cruise line. It’s a free and democratic world, they can say what they want to say. I want to tell you what is my responsibility that is the position of government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
The Prime Minister of this country of some 20 years insisted, “…it is not right in international law for any cruise company to dumb our nationals who have been working with them in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and simply wash their hands. I am not saying that anyone of them wants to do that. I am just saying that, that cannot be done given the responsibilities of the cruise lines and the rights of the individuals who work with them. Am I clear on that?”
PM Gonsalves reinforced his concerns over security matters in relation to returning nationals and stated that any entity overseas where nationals work, and they seek to “dump them” here without adhering to their obligations, their matter was not only entwined in health and social dimensions but also a security matter.
Continuing with is tongue lashing, Dr. Gonsalves lamented, “And nobody and certainly not someone who says that he has his Vincentian passport in his front pocket and his Canadian passport in his back pocket could lecture me on my responsibility. You hear me? OK. I don’t have anywhere else to go other than St. Vincent and the Grenadines you know. I can’t…I can’t just pull out my Canadian passport and jump on a plane and go to Canada”.