Repatriation of St Vincent sailors on Royal Caribbean cruise ship now in doubt

The April 30 repatriation of some 300 Vincentian sailors with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line was thrown into doubt on Thursday, when the company circulated an updated travel advisory that did not include St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Vincentians are among sailors who have been living on cruise ships for weeks, unable to disembark or travel home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our repatriation plans must abide by the changing travel restrictions in place by each nation,” Royal Caribbean said in its weekly update to the crew on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

The company said it would continue to keep the crew informed as it receives notice of changes to these restrictions. It said that another update will be given on Sunday “to include all countries with restrictions in place that prevent the repatriation of their nationals” and that that information will be included in the weekly updates moving forward. The company said that getting each member of its crew home safely is its top priority.

However, the absence of any information on Thursday’s weekly update on crew repatriations about a date of departure for Vincentian sailors has left them worried. A number of these sailors have contacted CMC saying they are concerned about this development.

“So, we, as Vincentians, should just stay at sea? The reason why I sent this to you is that I know you can be a voice for us. If you can, ask the government what are the plans for us as Vincentians also,” one sailor told CMC by WhatsApp late Thursday night.

The sailor, who asked for anonymity, added: “We are hearing that the government restrictions are causing our delay in getting home. It is rumoured that they want the company to pay US$150 per day per person—which is just over 300 of us. Plus, they also want everyone to be tested even though we have no signs of illness and have been in isolation for over 15 days. After we already did 14 days quarantine.”

‘…we have been in quarantine for almost a month now. We are not allowed to leave the room.’

—Crew Member

Another sailor said: “…we have been in quarantine for almost a month now. We are not allowed to leave the room so we just stay in the guest rooms. But we have balcony rooms so we can go out on the balcony and get fresh air.”

Of the 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in SVG, at least five of them were returning sailors. Four of the 14 cases were persons who displayed no symptoms and were nearing the end of their quarantine when the government decided to test them for the respiratory illness.

On April 7, Parliament gave bipartisan support to the efforts of the government to repatriate Vincentian sailors stranded overseas.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said his government supported, in principle, the repatriation of Vincentian nationals, but outlined the circumstances under which they would be allowed to come home. He said that employers of the sailors, as well as workers on oil rigs, had to ensure that COVID-19 tests were done “and that those who have a negative test, we verify that independently”.