Sat | Jun 6, 2020

High seas stand-off - Gov’t hints at accommodating ship workers but offers no timeline on decision

Published:Monday | May 18, 2020 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Attorney-at-law Jennifer Housen is at odds with the Holness administration's position on the return of Jamaicans aboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the Port Authority of Jamaica has not approved the docking of a ship in Falmouth.
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Despite the Jamaican Government’s insistence that it has not granted approval for a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) ship with 1,044 Jamaican crew to dock in Falmouth today, there are indications that the administration might allow the returnees to disembark after quarantine and other logistical arrangements are confirmed later this week.

But the cruise ship might remain in limbo at sea as the Government has not given a hard timeline for disembarkation, as negotiations are still under way.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has emphasised that the Port Authority of Jamaica had informed him that no approvals have been given for any ships to be docked.

Yesterday, both the People’s National Party and Jennifer Housen, an attorney who says she is representing more than 50 Jamaicans on board, insisted that the Royal Caribbean cruise liner Adventure of the Seas was sailing towards Jamaica.

However, sources close to Jamaica House indicate that Royal Caribbean, whose business has capsized under the weight of a fallout in global travel linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, appeared to be seeking to twist the Government’s arm.

“If it is true that the ship intends to sail into Jamaican waters without formal approval or even courtesy of notice, while discussions are still ongoing, then this would represent a serious departure from good maritime practices, a serious breach of good faith, and the cooperative nature of the dialogue we have been having on this matter,” Holness said in a statement late last night.

“Indeed, this would not be in the spirit of the good relations Jamaica has had with RCCL over the years.”

Holness admitted that the Government has been in negotiations with the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line on facilitating the return of Jamaican ship workers while fulfilling the minimum 14-day COVID-19 quarantine requirement.

The last correspondence the Government received, Holness said, was a request made on May 15 for a conference call with relevant agencies to iron out details under the so-called programme of controlled re-entry.

“We want to get our Jamaicans back home to their family and loved ones. We understand the frustration of being at sea for such a long time and now the anticipation of being close to home on the final leg of the journey,” Holness said.

But Housen has accused the administration of sidestepping nationals as tensions rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The attorney levelled the accusations as she pressed for the Government to allow the crew members to disembark the ship and go home to their families without state quarantine.

Housen further charged that it appears that Cabinet ministers have abrogated their responsibilities.

Gleaner analysis shows that the price tag to house and feed 1,044 nationals stands at around $170 million for 14 days at USD$80 per day or $211 million at US$100 per day to be borne by taxpayers if the Government foots the entire bill.

Housen had written the Government requesting that it confirm whether her clients would be allowed to disembark on May 23, 2020, once they arrive in the Jamaican port and that the period served in quarantine aboard the vessel be taken into account.

The attorney noted that her clients had completed their online applications through the JamCovid19 app, which would have informed the Government of their impending arrival.

“It is my clients’ contention that the Government of Jamaica, in communications with the cruise line, as far back as mid-March 2020, had requested that my clients, along with other crew members across the fleet, be quarantined and isolated. Their further understanding was that the Government of Jamaica’s request for their isolation was in preparation for them being able to immediately disembark ... .

“All of my clients have been in isolation now, for well over 14 days, some from as far back as March 16, 2020. This means that these Jamaican nationals have been in a ship’s cabin without personal contact for the last two months,” Housen said.

But Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said that the Government had a responsibility to ensure the safety of all and was moving to identify and mobilise the resources required to reduce or eliminate the risks associated with the repatriation exercise.

“The Government is ensuring that all support can be provided once agreement has been reached on the terms and date of arrival in accordance with the appropriate international laws and the laws of Jamaica,” Tufton said.

Meanwhile, Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Lisa Hanna questioned whether proper logistics were in place to receive the nationals.

“In this time, we’re not seeing certain people as a part of this. If you’ll remember when the earthquake happened in Haiti, the Jamaican army was sent to Haiti to help the Haitian Government deal with logistics in that crisis.

“Why hasn’t the army been called out now? Who is managing the protocols here? These are questions the Jamaican people really need to ask,” Hanna said.

Already, six crew members who were let into the island and who had been staying on the Marella Discovery 2 ship have tested positive for COVID-19 on their arrival in the island more than a week ago.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com