The Gleaner, Jamaica: Paul Clarke, May 15, 2020 – No date has been settled on for the return of Jamaicans stranded aboard the Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas cruise ship, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang has said.
Responding to pressure from the Opposition for state intervention, Chang said that the cruise line, under maritime law, still has the legal obligation to keep the ship workers until they are able to return home.
“I don’t think it is factual [that they will arrive in Jamaica on Sunday]. I will check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because as far as we are aware, it is not so, and to prevent the rumours, I am commenting on it,” Chang told The Gleaner yesterday in response to opposition calls.
The global cruise industry capsized in early March as Jamaica and other nations imposed tough protocols on health, temperature, and travel history for passengers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As countries closed their borders, the sector was virtually shipwrecked.
The Jamaican Government shuttered its ports to incoming passenger traffic at midnight on March 24.
Returnees are subjected to a 14-day quarantine and a battery of tests.
Up to Tuesday, technocrats were involved in discussions about repatriating nearly 2,000 nationals. Chang said that talks with Royal Caribbean were still under way.
He reiterated, however, that no timeline had been agreed.
“In fact, if it were true, they would have had to set sail already, and I am not aware of any of that,” Chang said.
“All well-thinking Jamaicans, including those on the ships, should know we can’t just bring them in and let them loose on the population, and bear in mind, even if we find the hotel rooms for 2,000 people over 14 days at US$100 a day, it’s a nice chunk of money, where we are already short $120 billion,” he said, referring to comments by Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke about the shock to the Jamaican economy.
Royal Caribbean Cruises is currently working to get more than 24,000 crew members back home via charter planes, commercial flights, and its fleet of cruise ships, according to a leaked memo published by the Business Insider.
As at May 7, a repatriation plan was still being developed for the crews from certain countries, including Bhutan, Madagascar, Pakistan, El Salvador, Seychelles, Taiwan, Uruguay, Georgia, Cyprus, and Uzbekistan. The memo noted that other countries, specifically China, Costa Rica, India, Jamaica, and Ukraine, required crew “to complete supplementary forms prior to your repatriation”, the Business Insider reported.
CALL FOR ADEQUATE PREPARATION
Opposition Spokesman on National Security Fitz Jackson had yesterday called for the Government to plan adequately for the arrival of 1,044 Jamaican ship workers aboard the Adventure of the Seas on May 17.
Jackson said that he had raised the concern with Prime Minister Andrew Holness during the sitting of the Parliament on Tuesday but did not receive a satisfactory response.
“Now that more details are available, I am demanding that a comprehensive plan to bring these countrymen safely to port and processed be prepared ahead of their landing because their nearly two months being stranded on the seas is already enough of an ordeal to tolerate,” stated Jackson.
He said he has learnt that the Jamaican Government does not have the quarantine capacity for such a large influx, placing their return in jeopardy.
“I have received information that many of the cruise-ship workers and their families are now becoming concerned over the poor coordination and information being provided and have begun to wonder whether the Government has the will to put a proper plan in place for the arrival of their loved ones,” said Jackson.
Further, he said he had received “heart-rending” messages from family members who say that the uncertainty at sea is causing anxiety among ship workers.
“There should be no repeat of the Marella Discovery 2 debacle when Jamaicans were refused entry to their own country,” Jackson said.