Tue | Aug 11, 2020

Jamaican cruise workers stuck in Brazil cry for help

Published:Friday | July 3, 2020 | 12:24 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Ten Jamaicans aboard the MSC Seaview cruise ship anchored in Brazil are growing weary of being at sea and are appealing to the Government to repatriate them in short order.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw global travel and leisure into a tailspin in March, leaving several cruise liners in a quandary, seeking ports to repatriate tourists and cruise workers alike to their homelands.

Jamaica had also closed its borders to passenger traffic in March, with thousands of stranded Jamaican cruise workers around the world expressing displeasure at the Government’s refusal to grant them landing privileges or coordinate initiatives to get them home.

Up to June 22, some 1,957 cruise ship workers were returned home under a controlled re-entry programme. At least 45 have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Government.

“The Government is working on scheduling the repatriation of the remaining seafarers out there, and again, this is across nine ship lines, and I would say easily, more than 115 ships, some of which are being consolidated even as we speak,” Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith said in May after 1,044 seafarers were granted landing privileges at historic Falmouth in Trelawny.

For several remaining Jamaican seafarers stuck abroad, their day can’t come soon enough.

FRUSTRATION INTENSIFIES

Twenty-two-year-old Peter-Gay Allen, a first-time cruise ship worker who has been in Brazil since January, said she and nine other fellow countrymen aboard the MSC Seaview are frustrated with the long wait.

She told The Gleaner that the Jamaicans have all registered on the Government’s jamcovid19.moh.gov.jm portal and have been approved to return home.

Their frustration intensified this week when the Cubans on board the vessel were repatriated to their country, with no arrangements made for the Jamaicans to travel with them.

“Cuba is just right next to Jamaica,” Allen lamented. “They went as far as to get Schengen visas for the Cubans to allow them to travel through Europe. We could have done that, too.”

They are appealing to the Government to charter a flight to get them home.

In a June 18 letter issued to the crew, a copy of which The Gleaner has seen, MSC Seaview stated that no crew members were in isolation and that it was working with governments, ports, airports, and airlines to repatriate the 243 people on board.

When contacted, the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) told The Gleaner that it was in dialogue with MSC Cruises, which operates the vessel.

“They indicated that they have not yet finalised their plans for repatriation, whether by air or sea. Further, they have not yet provided a total number of Jamaican workers globally that desire to return to the country as they are still in the process of collating the information,” the PAJ said.

It added that cruise lines bear a contractual obligation to arrange for the return of seafarers to their homeland and that the Government would then make the arrangements to accommodate them by air or sea.

The PAJ also noted that there are Jamaicans in various parts of the world, some of whom are still under contract and who have not yet expressed a desire to be repatriated.

Another Jamaican aboard the MSC Seaview, who asked that his name be withheld, told The Gleaner that the situation is getting worse.

He said that there has been “poor communication, no reliable information towards going home, and it’s getting frustrating”.

Another colleague, 28-year-old Patrick Campbell, said that life aboard the vessel in the COVID-19 era has been very stressful.

Brazil has surpassed 1.5 million COVID-19 cases, with only the United States, with 2.7 million, recording more cases.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com