There are between 1,000 and 2,000 Vincentian crew members on cruise ships who might be returning home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on Sunday.
He disclosed the figure on WE FM as he responded to what he said were questions by persons regarding why his government does not use funds from its stimulus package to pay for the quarantining of the repatriated sailors.
In April, Parliament approved an EC$74 million fiscal package to cover spending arising as a consequence of the impact of the viral illness.
The government has said that repatriated sailors will be quarantined for between 14 and 21 days at hotels or guesthouses and their employers would have to foot the bill of EC$150 per sailor per day.
“I heard somebody said something that well, why did I go to the parliament … for a stimulus package. Why don’t take some of that money and put up the persons in the hotel?” Gonsalves said.
“Now … let’s say it’s 1,000 you have out there. And I’m telling you it’s more than 1,000. At EC$150 a night, that’s $150,000 by 14 nights for each of that 1,000 because you have to treat all of them the same. That’s over $2 million.
“Why should we take up that responsibility when the employers have a responsibility?” the prime minister reasoned.
The government is said to be in the closing phase of negotiations with one cruise line to repatriate some 300 Vincentians sailors soon.
However, its approach has come in for some criticism, some of which the prime minister has dismissed as opportunistic.
“You know, it’s all well and good for people to play opportunistic and try to play on the emotions of the families of those who are waiting here in St. Vincent for their sons or their daughters or their partners who are on the cruise ships.
“But we have to do this thing properly. We have to protect the families. We have to protect the communities we have to protect the crew members themselves, the prime minister said.
“And the irony of all this is that some of those who are saying lock it (the nation’s borers) down tight, let the crew man stay there, now, they have some of the ones who want to agitate for me to bring them back and don’t even lay down any condition
“You all know already that noise like that don’t move me. Noise like that moves me not, it’s right reason has to move me and the advice of the professionals.”
Gonsalves acknowledged that the cruise lines are being asked to pay for in-hotel quarantine even as some of their employees have homes where they can be quarantined.
He said one sailor had emailed him saying that they live alone and can be quarantined at home.
“I gave that email to Dr. Roger Duncan (the Medical Officer of Health). Clearly, the Ministry of Health will have a preference to have everybody in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 locations.
“But, you can’t have one location with 300 people. But it’s easier to have them rather than at 300 separate locations. In terms of the oversight and management,” the prime minister said.
“Because you have to deal with their capacity to be able to do all of this. And remember this, we are talking about over 1,000 persons out there. It might be a number in excess of 2,000.
“This is 300 and something from this particular line and that’s not all of those from that cruise line.
“We have Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, which got the most people, most of our people. There’s Carnival. There’s Holland America. There’s Disney. There is Norwegian Cruise Line. The cruise lines can’t just send them here on a plane without we having all the information and with all that we’re requiring,” the prime minister said.
The Ministry of Health has detailed protocols for the repatriation of sailors and oil rig workers by both sea and air.
Gonsalves further responded to his critics, saying:
And what this minority of unpatriotic persons are seeking to do, who are acting in an opportunistic manner. I’m not including in here the families who are anxious to have them back. I understand the anxieties and I share their anxieties.
“And nobody wants to bring them back as fast as I want to bring them back. But I have an obligation to bring them back and have them brought back in accordance with certain protocols, which would protect them, their families, their communities and the country.”