New Democratic Party’s Senator Israel Bruce is troubled by the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves led-administration’s approach to repatriating Vincentian sailors employed with the cruise ship industry or on oil rigs. He sees the approach as being wrong not only because of the much debated quarantine fees that the government is trying to pass on to the cruise ship companies but also for refusing to bring home the sailors while negotiations are ongoing.

“I’m giving the Honorable Prime Minister all the benefit of the doubt here, now. Even if there is an international law… within the maritime legislative framework internationally and within the International Labor Organisation’s conventional framework – even if there is an envelope that allows Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to extract the resources for the purposes of quarantine of these sailors; we should not have them out there where they are simply waiting on these monies to be released.

“You bring them home, you quarantine them, you document your costs and then you lay your costs on the table so that the entity that is obligated – the Prime Minister is saying that they have an obligation – to meet these costs would then be presented with the relevant cost instrument [to] say look this is what it cost Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to quarantine the sailors who were on your ship for which you have the responsibility. You are now asked to take up this tab,” Senator Bruce on radio last Tuesday night.

Bruce slammed PM Gonsalves’ much touted claims that the Vincentian citizenship must stand for something, given that the government appears to be hindering more than helping the sailors’ repatriation process.

“So from one side of your mouth you are saying that citizenship must mean something and then from the other side of your mouth citizenship means, apparently, ‘wait until I could demonstrate my negotiation skills…. That can’t be and we must condemn it in the most profoundest of ways and say bring our Vincentian citizens home. Let them come home.”

PM Gonsalves told the nation, on a separate radio station last Tuesday, that a further delay in what was to be the April 30 arrival of some 300 sailors employed with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, by air, was imminent given his government’s decision to deny permission for a Miami airline to land 2 planeloads of Vincentian sailors at Argyle.

Bruce further “dived into the legal framework from which the Honorable Prime Minister has been speaking.” While reading from the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 166 concerning the repatriation of seafarers as revised on October 9, 1987, Senator Bruce established as the first important point, that “the application of the convention has to do with whether or not the convention is in force in the member state.”

He read, “this convention applies to every seagoing ship whether publicly or privately owned which is registered in the territory of any member for which the convention is in force.”

Bruce, who is tipped as being the NDP’s candidate for the South Central Windward Constituency, questioned whether or not the ships upon which Vincentians were employed are registered in member States where the ILO Repatriation of Seafarers convention is enforced.

He also looked at the circumstances, as acknowledged by the convention, under which seafarers are to be “entitled to repatriation.” He listed amongst those: if a contract expires while the employees are abroad or in the event of illness or injury or other medical conditions which requires his or her repatriation when declared medically fit to travel.

He added that ship owners must bear the cost of getting the sailors home which would include passage from the ship to the repatriation destination, accommodation and food from the ship to the repatriation destination, payment and allowances for the sailors, if provided for by national laws or collective agreement and the costs of medical treatments when necessary until the afflicted sailor is declared medically fit to travel.

If the ship owners fail to meet the associated costs of repatriating the seafarers then, according to the ILO Convention article Bruce cited, the competent authority in the member’s territory where the ship is registered shall meet the cost of sending home that employee. And if this fails to materialize then either the government of the country in which the sailor is stranded or his country of birth should cover the costs which they can later seek to recover.

Even when the convention allows ship owners to defray medical costs until the sick or injured person has been cured or declared incurable, SVG in particular may not be able to take advantage of any inherent recourse.

According to Senator Bruce, this treaty does not apply to this situation for the fact that every Vincentian sailor must be declared sick in order to qualify for medical costs coverage.

“We must first establish that, that cruise line is seeking to send 200 sick people and until you establish that they have 200 sick people that they are hoping to send to us then you say, ‘hey! I am prepared to invoke article 4 of this convention. You have a responsibility to make sure you defray the expense of medical care and maintenance until the sick or injured person has been cured.”

Not only that but SVG is one of the countries who have not ratified the ship owners liability sick and injured seamen convention.

Bruce therefore explained, “once a convention or a provision has been passed there’s a responsibility on member countries of the ILO to come to their respective countries to ratify those conventions so they become part of our national law. None of those conventions/provisions that I reported with regards to the seafarers, my research is saying to me that St. Vincent has not ratified any of them.”

He told Asbert News Network, “Gonsalves need to examine the situation carefully make sure that the cruise liners owe a responsibility to the sailors. I have doubt.” As for his direct electoral competitor’s apparent failure, as Minister of Labor, to ratify the ILO conventions Bruce noted, “they don’t care about workers that’s pure and simple.”

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