A stranded Vincentian sailor quarantined aboard a cruise ship since March says a video by another seaman could give the wrong impression about their circumstances.
In a video posted on Tuesday, Vincentian sailor Travis Harry shows crewmembers enjoying a buffet meal while observing physical distancing protocol aboard a cruise ship.
Harry addressed his comments in the video to Vincentians who were expressing concerns about sailors returning to the country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Alyuh ain’t ha’ no clue wha’ going on out here,” Harry said.
He said there are thousands of ships “out here” and only about three have persons infected with COVID-19.
“Sailor man happy to be out here. We ain’t ha’ no temperature, we living like kings, we living like kings and we getting paid,” Harry said.
“Alyuh ha’ seven case down there,” he said in an apparent reference to the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in SVG at the time — which rose from eight to 12 on Thursday.
Harry’s video came at a time when some 2,500 Vincentian sailors and oil rig workers are stranded overseas as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
The video generated some discussion on social media amidst bipartisan support for efforts of the government to have Vincentians sailors repatriated.
In Parliament on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday said he supported the government’s efforts to bring home Vincentian cruise ship workers and asked that the government not forget oil rig workers, who are in grave danger in Louisiana.
That same day, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves outlined to Parliament the protocols that would inform the return of the sailors.
They include a negative COVID-19 test and willingness by the cruise line to pay for 14 days’ quarantine of each crew member on their return to SVG.
However, another Vincentian sailor aboard another cruise ship, told iWitness News on Wednesday that while there is “no lie” in Harry’s video it could leave people with the wrong impression.
The sailor, who asked to remain anonymous, told iWitness News that the video “was a little misleading in that the crew that was shown was a working crew”.
He said that while cruise lines have suspended the contracts of most of their crew and confined them to guest cabins, the people in Harry’s video are being paid because they are providing meals and other services for “the crew that is not seen”.
The cruise ship worker said that this unseen crew includes people like him, who are quarantined in their cabin.
He said that his cruise ship was south of Australia on its way to Southeast Asia to drop home crew members.
He told iWitness News that he last set foot on land in Australia on March 18.
That was the day when his cruise line suspended cruises in the Americas and Australia, initially for one month.
The crew of the vessel was to stay on board for that one month.
However, things changed suddenly when the cruise line realised, just one day later, that the pandemic was not going to change within one month and business would be affected for a longer period of time.
Then countries in the Pacific began to close ports and the sailor’s cruise line then decided to suspend crewmembers’ contracts and payments and informed them that they would be sent home.
The plan was for crewmembers to return to their various countries in three batches, leaving on March 21, 27 and April 22.
The ship would have retained a skeletal crew responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the vessel.
The Vincentian sailor who spoke to iWitness News was supposed to be on the first batch leaving on March 21. However, even more countries closed their borders and his flight was cancelled.
Further, persons who had gone on cruises had tested positive for COVID-19, even though that was not the case with his ship.
After the last guest left, his cruise line decided to quarantine all its crewmembers for 14 days, which would have ended on April 1.
The cruise line moved crewmembers to stateroom cabins that guests would usually use, each of which has a balcony.
The ship conducts daily checks on the crew members to see if they were presenting with symptoms on COVID-19 and food was delivered to these cabins in a way that ensures physical distancing.
With Australia having closed its borders, the ship spent some time sailing around Australia.
However, the vessel began to run out of food and fuel and they were allowed to enter Australian waters to replenish supplies.
However, the vessel was not allowed to dock and was replenished using a barge which brought the supplies out to sea.
The sailor told iWitness News that the crew was later told the vessel would sail east towards no destination in particular.
However, the company was able to reach an agreement with one South East Asian nation to drop off its nationals and the company is in discussion with two other nations to do the same.
The sailor said that to facilitate this, the cruise line had to move crewmembers from one ship to another as there are five ships in the area in similar situation.
He said that he is happy aboard the vessel and that company is doing what it can to make them comfortable.
He, however, noted that there are 1,600 crewmembers aboard his ship, which raises questions about how long supplies would last in those circumstances.
The sailor told iWitness News that the stranded crewmembers receive regular briefings by the company’s management, in which they repeatedly stress that their aim is to get crewmembers home as soon as possible.
“It all boils down to how long we can keep this up for,” the told iWitness News, adding that he most definitely would prefer to be at home.
He said he has been on lockdown in a cabin since March 27 except for a few hours on April 2 when the ship took on some other crewmembers.
However, because some persons could have COVID-19 and be asymptomatic, the company decided to begin the 14-day quarantine afresh.
This quarantine could help the ship in its negotiation to use their airports to charter flights to take crewmembers home.
The sailor also noted that many Vincentians seem not to object to seamen being allowed to return home, but their main concern is whether they are free of the COVID-19 virus.
He, however, said that he had concluded that it would take him a longer time to get home simply because of the region of the world where his ship is located.
“But the good thing in this is that I am safe,” he told iWitness News.