Fri | Sep 25, 2020

Editorial | Welcoming ship crews

Published:Friday | May 22, 2020 | 12:20 AM

THERE WILL be relief all round that the more than 1,000 Jamaican crew members aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Adventure of the Seas vessel are finally being landed at home.

But we, like others, are surprised at the glitches and delays, even after missteps and kerfuffle over the TUI Leisure Cruise’s Marella Discovery 2 a month ago, when that ship’s frustrated captain sailed from Jamaican waters for Europe, without disembarking 43 of the island’s nationals because the Government dithered over giving the vessel the right to dock. The group eventually flew home from England.

Both issues, despite the Holness administration’s generally competent handling of the coronavirus outbreak, betray significant gaps in its planning and, perhaps, not so full a grasp of citizens’ constitutional right of entry, as well as the State’s obligations to seafarers under the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention, which Jamaica has not only signed, but ratified.

There are several hundred Jamaican crew members still aboard cruise vessels in the Caribbean Sea awaiting repatriation. Hopefully, they, too, will in short order be able to return home, without the anxieties, frustrations and drama of the two previous groups.

Like many countries, Jamaica, on March 24, closed its borders to air and sea passenger vessels, unless they received special dispensation. This was an understandable move to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The Government’s action preceded, by a week, the decision by cruise ship companies to halt cruises and disembark passengers. More than 2,000 Jamaicans working on those ships were essentially marooned at sea.

TECHNICAL QUESTION

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of Jamaica’s Constitution afford the right “of every citizen of Jamaica to enter Jamaica”, but also allows for the curtailment of citizens’ right to freedom of movement where it is “reasonably justifiable for the purpose of dealing with the situation that exists during a period of public emergency or public disaster”. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the measures taken by the Government to slow its advance, clearly meet the constitutional threshold for infringing on freedom of movement.

The issue of re-entry is perhaps a more technical constitutional question. The likely interpretation of the inability of Jamaicans to return isn’t that the Government is barring citizens from entering the island, but preventing vessels, which may or may not be transporting Jamaicans, from entering its territory.

Which makes the matter with Marella Discovery 2 concerning. That ship was allowed to refuel in Jamaica’s territorial waters, with the Jamaican crew members on-board. Yet, for more than a day, it couldn’t get permission to come to port to disembark the Jamaicans.

This newspaper appreciates Jamaica’s resource constraints, both in terms of manpower and physical assets. That, however, does not obviate the need for crisis planning. Which, in this case, should have included the Government from the earliest sign of the problem, informing itself about how many Jamaicans are employed on cruise ships, and what are the country’s obligations to these workers. This information ought to reside with the Maritime Authority of Jamaica.

Regulation 2.5 of the Maritime Labour Convention places obligations for the repatriation of crew not only on their employers, but also on governments. “Each member (state) shall facilitate the repatriation of seafarers serving on ships which call at its ports or pass through its territorial or internal waters, as well as their replacement on-board,” the convention says. “In particular, a member shall not refuse the right of repatriation to any seafarer because of the financial circumstances of a shipowner or because of the shipowner’s inability or unwillingness to replace a seafarer.”

It was surprising, in the circumstances, and given the experience with the Marella Discovery 2, to observe the to-and-fro between the Government and owners and captain of the Adventure of the Seas over the timing of the vessel’s arrival in Jamaica, and of the logistical snafus regarding the clearing, testing and further quarantining of the disembarking crew. The authorities should have been working overtime to clear these hurdles, including, if they had to, the requisitioning/appropriation of suitable properties at which to quarantine returning seafarers – and other Jamaicans.

The Government, rightly, is working towards an early, full reopening of the Jamaican economy, including the welcoming of tourists. However, as vital as tourism is to the national economy, it is more important to settle the welfare of citizens before accommodating foreign leisure travellers. It is our expectation, therefore, that the next batch of maritime ‘returnees’ will be received without the hassles and hitches faced by the previous ones.