Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)

Vincentian sailors with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. will not return to the country on Thursday, April 30, as hoped.

The return of the sailors, who have already spent several weeks in isolation aboard cruise ships amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, has been further delayed for weeks.

They are now expected to sail home, rather than fly, and it will be weeks before they set sail, the cruise line has said.    

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves made the announcement on radio, on Tuesday, when he also disclosed that his government would not permit a Miami airline to land two planes carrying some 300 sailors because Kingstown has no information about their health status.

In a sharp turn of events amidst negotiations with Royal Caribbean to get them to pay for 14 days’ quarantine of each sailor in SVG, at EC$150 per night, Gonsalves, on Tuesday, cited international law and began naming some of the persons involved in the negotiations.

Speaking on WE FM, the prime minister read an email from Bishen John, chief executive officer of the SVG Port Authority, who has been interfacing with Royal Caribbean.

In his email to the prime minister, John said that he had been in contact, that day, April 28, with Captain Hernan Zini, vice president Worldwide Port Operations at Royal Caribbean.

Zini had confirmed that Royal Caribbean has not received approval for the disembarking of crew members from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States of America, the prime minister cited John as saying.  

Additionally, Royal Caribbean had not repatriated any of the crew members to any Caribbean destination following the CDC’s new ‘no sail’ order on April 9, 2020.

John further said he was sending the prime minister the names of the executives of the various companies.

“Because there’s a reason why I’m asking for that,” Gonsalves said. “I wouldn’t say why except persons from what I said earlier may appreciate why I need those particular names.”

He said that on Monday, Corsel Robertson, chief executive officer of Argyle International Airport (AIA), received an email from Sany Rivera, ground services programme manager, at Swift Air, an entity in Miami.

In the email, the subject of which is “Swift Air ground handling requests”, Rivera told Robertson:

“The contract to bring nationals home is almost complete. Below please find the updated schedule of the original request.”

Gonsalves said Swift Air had made the original request on April 13 but nothing came of it.

In her email on Monday, Rivera asked Robertson whether the ground handling could occur at the updated times and dates.

Rivera sent a schedule indicating that her airline was proposing to use two 737 aircraft on Thursday, April 30, to fly the Vincentians to AIA.

The flights were scheduled to land at 11:28 p.m. and 11:50 p.m. and leave within an hour of their arrival.

“Well, immediately, that happened, Corsel Robertson sent the information to Simone Keizer-Beache; the CMO (chief medical officer), sent it to me,” Gonsalves said.

He said he contacted John, who, in turn, contacted Royal Caribbean.

“Because these persons are supposed to be Royal Caribbean passengers,” he said, referring to the returning Vincentians that Swift Air was proposing to repatriate.

“When Bishen John contacted Royal Caribbean, Royal Caribbean said, ‘Listen we are not in a position to have any transfers done’,” Gonsalves said, adding that the cruise line cited an absence of approval from the CDC.

 “… I said the weekend before, not this weekend, they had sent and said that they couldn’t do anything for a week. I don’t know who is playing games or where any games are being played, if any games are being played, but Bishen John is being told something and Swift Air is sending something else.

“How can Swift Air send yesterday an email, they want clearance to come the airport. Each of these two planes as you want to bring can take up to 150. Originally we’re talking about tonight 200, then 299.

“We don’t know anything about the health conditions, none of the things which we ask about hasn’t been addressed, so you bring them on the airport,” Gonsalves said.

“Thank God when Bishen contacted Royal Caribbean they said no, no, no, no, no, no but you know, look as though the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? I didn’t want to go in as much detail as I’ve gone in here. I could go into more detail. But day by day, Sweet Jesus,” the prime minister said.

“Well of course, Swift Air will not be given permission to land. Their operation would not be allowed to land until they have done the following things; it’s a protocol,” Gonsalves said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said that Zini subsequently wrote John saying he will send a letter with the latest information.

“The current thing is to do the repatriation by ship. This will take a few weeks before we can even depart from Florida. As soon as we draft our plan, we will send a letter with all relevant details and a formal request to conduct the repatriation,” Gonsalves quoted Zini as saying in an email to John.

The prime minister went on to repeat the protocol that the government has announced for the repatriation of sailors and oil rig workers.

Among other things, under the protocol, the returning nationals must have a certificate of health issued by the authorities in the country of departure. The certificate must indicate their COVID-19 status.

Kingstown must also have advance information about where each sailor plans to undergo the quarantine.

The government has also indicated that it would prefer if the sailors stay at hotels or guest houses.

Gonsalves said:

“Can you imagine 1,000 persons being across St. Vincent and the Grenadines in private homes in a quarantine, how that will stretch the health and security resources of this country. You see the reason why you need to have that more centralised?”

The Prime Minister said there are some 1,300 Vincentians working with Royal.

“And we are grateful to Royal and I want to work this thing out properly with Royal. But remember I have said before, please, I’m asking everybody concerned, including people who are working with Royal do not say or do anything which could undermine the negotiations, the discussions which we’re having with Royal or with any other cruise line for that matter.

“What is this vanity that persons are involved in to prove what? You’re not being helpful,” the prime minister said.

“If they think by doing that can move me from my position and if the opposition wants to play politics with this issue, if they think they can move me from the position which I’m articulating, well they have another guess coming.

“Because I know that the vast majority of the people of this country support the government and support Ralph in what we are doing on this matter. Yes, we want our nationals to come home. But we want the cruise ships also to bear their responsibility.”

The prime minister said there are persons in SVG who have lost their jobs and are only getting EC$300 from social security as an unemployment benefit.  

“But there are people who want me to spend over $2,000 for 14 days to keep a seaman or sea woman in a hotel, in quarantine,” he said, although the in-hotel quarantine is a requirement of his government.

14 replies on “Vincy sailors’ flights denied landing at AIA; repatriation delayed by weeks”

  1. Urlan Alexander says:

    And the plot thickens. Vincentian knew over a week ago that no seafarer was coming in on the 30th . What’s the surprise here? It is evident that you are fighting a losing battle Ralph. You put your foot in your mouth a long time ago.

  2. Urlan Alexander says:

    According to Travis Harry, flights for other countries are scheduled to depart with seafarers from his ship on the April 30th. It will be a slap in Ralph face if these flights do leave because it will show that someone is lying about whether the problem for this flight not coming to SVG is because CDC didn’t give the permission. Am looking forward to tomorrow to see if seamen from other countries will leave to go home.

  3. Agustus Carr says:

    Whether these persons arrive by ship or aircraft their return is inevitable because SVG is this their home. Prolonging this matter is a waste of time and a complication of SVG recovery process. The Government should have been more advance on this matter. There are two problem at play here, a Government that is failing to plan properly and Government who lacks fiscal prudence and responsibility.

    Someone had to know at some point during the Covid-19 strategy meetings that there are Vincentian Sailors who would need to come home at some stage. We are not getting the facts in this matter. My father once said to me, “their are more in the mortar than the pestle”. Similarly, I think there is more to this discussion than what was revealed.The manner in which these sailors are handled is unconscionable. This is a systematic failure of leadership at the highest level of Government.

    While there may be some concerns about the sailors return home, it is a matter that must be handled expeditiously because they are citizens and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the potential fallout might be significant. The first priority of every Government is the security of its citizens. Therefore, security of the larger population must be considered as well as these sailors.

    The two most significant questions the Government should be asking itself is, what is the maximum number of persons can we quarantine over a two week period without significantly overburdening the health care system and do we have the capacity to facilitate such a large number of people at once? There should be phased approach to this through the establishment of a road map.

    Limit the number of persons returning home per week to a small number so as to effectively manage this process. Get the quarantine process and the required testing protocols in place. Consider working our an arrangement to use a cruise a means of quarantine. These persons must not be allowed to self isolate when they arrive home. They are mostly young people and therefore they have the tendency to roam.

    If our Government was running a balance or surplus budget yearly, we would not be in this predicament. We should have been able to quarantine these sailors without worrying where the money is coming from. Why do this Government continuously runs a budget deficit year in and yet out? We continue to run this country without saving for the rainy days. We are more sensible than this. If we put away ten (20) million dollars each year would have over $200 million in. sinking fund within five (5) years. No sensible persons spends more than what they earn. This is a basic philosophy of life.

    Finally, these hotels should provide some level of relief to the Government. This is a national crisis. Therefore everyone, must bond together to resolve this. In an effort to assist the Government, the Hotel at this stage should be charging enough to break even. Equally, the Government should give the hotels a tax holiday for their gesture. What about quarantining the passengers on the cruise ship. These times require philanthropy and good deeds.

  4. Smells like a shake down to me. If they pay that money, would they be allowed to land tonight?
    And which hotel would be utilized. This man really think Vincentians dotish.

  5. That’s interesting expectations from our leader.A few yrs ago a Yachts charter company suddenly closed down and the workers at this company didn’t get a red cent.Tried as they did they were met with what you could call resistance every step of the way.Up to today not a cent for the workers but our pm is trying hus utmost to get money out of a foreign company.What a thing..you have to do good ah yard before doing good abroad mr pm

  6. Mr. PM, they are your people, my people,our people.
    $2000 per person not going to bankrupt SVG.
    Bring our citizens home Mr. PM.

  7. Are you REALLY SERIOUS, these are natives coming home. They are not asking you to take care of them financially. They are only asking you to represent them by giving authorization for them to be relieved to land at home. These natives are bring revenue into the land to work back to help create employment to others.

  8. Bill Johnney says:

    It is very sad that so many Vincentian can lack common understanding. This is not about who doting or who wise, it’s about protecting the majority of our people and ensure that the cruise lines play their part, yes I understand that the 2000 plus sailors are Vincentian and should be allowed to come home but it will be a very, very foolish thing to do to just allow them to come not knowing their medical status, not knowing how you are going to quarantine them and also to take up the code to quarantine them when clearly according to international laws, that’s the sole responsibility of their employers. I really don’t believe all who commenting in the negative lack understanding but I more so believe it’s because of the hatred they have in their hearts for the PM but what he is doing he is doing it for the protection of the majority of Vincentian. I do sympathize with the sailors and their families and I will hope that they understand that the government is not doing things to punish any of them but just ensuring that those responsible live up to their responsibilities. It will be stupidness to just allow put all Vincentian at risk just because of a few selfish people who I think should know better and do better but you know what, politics is bitter in SVG and it is all playing out in this whole negotiations. Mr. PM I’m with you 1000% and I’m sure thousands of other Vincentians are as well. Do not bow to no political pressure. Whether you do good or bad it will not matter they will always want to have your head. Stay focus, stay strong and stand solidly on your ground.

  9. Hashtag Prince says:

    As l recall there was the Supplementary Budget that was passed in Parliament not too long ago for COVID19 purposes or the US$4.5million that was activated on April 17 by the World Vank for SVG Covid-19 response.

    Let do some basic maths:
    EC $2000 for 14days X 300 persons = EC $600,000
    Deduct that from US $4.5 Million. …WOW!!!!!

    Not counting in the money from other institutions such as East Caribbean Central Bank, NIS and the like. Further to this, I am most certain that if you were to even ask fellow citizens to donate foodstuff or even contribute money to aid in sustaining those 300 quarantined countrymen, that people would come running to help.

    “Combad”, what you holding on to that money so tight for?
    You disrespect your own “children” – citizens of the soil, that is the principle here.

    I dare say this treatment is evil, immoral and ungodly.
    “Labour Love” has faded big time.

  10. This is the dotish behaviour by the PM. he allowed two cruise ships to land about 8000 passengers in Kingstown. No health checks nothing, not even temperature checks. They swarmed through Kingstown and went on busses and taxies all over the island.

    Every Vincentian, even the most ignorant ULP supporters screamed stop, but he would have none of it and said he was working to a scientific formula. On the second ship a few days after it departed SVG two cases of the virus were identified.

    Now when two thousand Vincentians want to come home he will not allow them to unless the Cruise companies buy hotel space, which they are under no legal obligation to do. But like usual he makes up the rules as he goes along.

    Eventually we will have 2000 sailors who will not be welcome back by the Companies. Two thousand more without employment, and 2000 families punting to eat and live, which could be as many as 20,000 people.

  11. I think the whole problem is that the PM wants the cruise lines to pay for the quarantine for the sailors and that deal is not what he expected and now he giving the companies a very hard time which I know will have serious repicution which will affect our sailors.I have know Captain Zine for very long time he is a man willing to sit or stand and listen .PM bring the men home please as soon as possible .These sailors may not get there jobs back because cruise business will be down for a very long time.

  12. What is the big issue pm? The money for accommodating the sailors will be paid to local hotels not foreign ones. Could be part and parcel of the stimulus package for the economy. The sum involves pales in comparison to the contribution made by the hundreds of saliors to the national economy annually. It is a win win for the country. We cannot afford to be pennywise and pound foolish at this time.

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