Cruise ships have proved to be such a headache for Caribbean nations and for countries around the world. Back in early February, the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan was quarantined, and later, together with the Grand Princess off California produced a total of over 800 positive cases and at least ten deaths. Earlier on, various ships were trying to dock at different ports, with limited success.
Here’s a list of all the cruise ships with confirmed COVID-19 cases aboard since the pandemic began.
Now there is an added layer of concern: It’s not just about the passengers, but also those who live and work on the cruise ships. There are 43 Jamaican citizens working on the Marella Discovery 2, which docked recently near (but not in) Kingston. The ship workers wanted to get off! But…should they have been allowed back in? Should any of the Jamaicans living and working overseas, who are anxious to return (some would normally have already done so) be allowed to come home?
It’s a real dilemma for the Jamaican Government, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has come under severe pressure in this regard. Now, the ship has been denied docking permission in Portugal, where it headed from Kingston. It is now seeking to dock in the UK. Remember too that the Ministry of Health and Wellness had set up a protocol and guidelines for cruise ships visiting Jamaica on March 3 – a week before we had our first case of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, will the cruise ship industry ever fully recover from COVID-19 – “when it’s all over,” as we repeatedly say? That remains to be seen. My view is, however, that mass market tourism is not the right path for Jamaica, and never has been. Truly sustainable tourism is a must. At the moment it’s just a meaningless catch-phrase. When/if we get back to “normal,” let’s take a long hard look at the current state of our tourism industry, and let’s look at high-value agricultural exports to earn some foreign exchange. Organic products fetch a good price. The average mass-market tourist doesn’t bring much to the table.
Well, I digress (and I am no economist!) Here is the Joint Statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Ministry of National Security.
JOINT STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY OF JAMAICA AND THE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND FOREIGN TRADE OF JAMAICA REGARDING JAMAICAN WORKERS ON THE MARELLA DISCOVERY2
(MFAFT Kingston: April 13, 2020)
The Government of Jamaica wishes to advise of the facts regarding a request made on Thursday April 2, 2020 to allow entry and landing of Jamaican workers who were aboard the Marella Discovery 2.
We understand the disappointment and anxiety of these cruise line workers and similar sentiments experienced by other Jamaican workers overseas who await the reopening of our borders to return home. We have, however, confirmed the following:
- The vessel did not come into the Jamaican harbour / port on April 2, 2020, but was anchored at the California Bluffs, 12 miles south of Port Royal for re-fuelling.
- The Ship’s Agent made contact with the Port Authority and Port Health Agents, advising of a request for 43 Jamaican crew members to be landed.
- Between the relevant Immigration and Health Authorities, the Agent was advised that the ports were closed and that landing of the crew would require an exemption. This was communicated to the Captain.
- The matter came to the attention of the Emergency Health Operations Committee that evening (April 2, 2020).
- The Health Authorities made enquiries of temperature checks and any incidence of COVID-19 on the vessel and further made efforts to identify appropriate available quarantine facilities and resources to support same, to determine if it would be possible to recommend the exemption to the relevant Minister and the Cabinet.
- During that process, in the early afternoon of the following day, April 3, 2020, the Ship’s Agent advised that the request for repatriation was withdrawn and that the vessel was continuing on its route. The efforts regarding possible facilitation of the landing of the workers were therefore, discontinued.
It is surmised that the Captain may have taken the decision not to wait for a process, for which neither a guarantee of success, nor a timeline could be given, in light of the existing legal restrictions regarding our borders.
For additional context, we wish to remind the public and advise the crew members who may not have been aware, that during the period when the request was made (April 2 – 3), the relevant authorities were still in the process of trying to locate the more than 5000 persons who entered Jamaica between March 18 and 24, who had not reported to the Ministry of Health and Wellness. This was a high risk set of circumstances as there was evidence that many of those persons were not abiding by the self-quarantine rules.
Furthermore, the decision to close Jamaica’s borders to passenger traffic in the first place took consideration of the reality that the majority of Jamaican coronavirus cases are Jamaicans who travelled overseas or persons who made contact with them when they came to Jamaica. The risk of accepting nearly 50 additional persons from a cruise ship, especially without confirmed quarantine arrangements, would have been particularly high at that time, and would clearly have posed a further threat to public health and safety.
We, however, wish to advise the workers who were impacted and other groups of workers on cruise and in other temporary arrangements overseas, that the Jamaican Government is now considering protocols to permit the controlled re-entry of Jamaicans when possible, contingent on quarantine and isolation capacity, among other variables, pending the full re-opening of our borders to passenger traffic. We will update the public on these matters, as soon as possible.
We note in closing that the Government must continue to be guided by public health imperatives on matters such as these, and that while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade did not handle this matter as it has no authority over border control, it will work with all relevant ministries to monitor the matter and to seek the most suitable arrangements and support for our nationals overseas.