High-risk circumstances

THE Jamaican Government yesterday said that the risk of allowing the Jamaican crew members aboard Marella Discovery 2 into the country was high at the time a request was made, and posed a further threat to public health and safety.

The Government was responding to a Jamaica Observer front-page story published on April 6, detailing the plight of more than 40 Jamaicans who were denied entry into the country following travel restrictions imposed on incoming passengers on March 24.

In a joint statement to the media yesterday, both the ministries of national security and foreign affairs and foreign trade said that the decision to close Jamaica’s borders to incoming passenger traffic, in the first place, took into consideration the reality that the majority of the country’s novel coronavirus cases are Jamaicans who travelled overseas or individuals who made contact with them when they came into the island.

The Observer first reported that a request made by the ship’s captain on behalf of the Jamaicans for them to disembark went unanswered by the Government, forcing the captain to move on.

According to a crew member, the cruise ship was refuelling in Jamaican waters on April 2 when the request was made, but left for the Dominican Republic on April 3 when an answer from the Jamaican Government was not forthcoming.

The cruise ship has since been denied access to Portugal’s port and is now headed to the United Kingdom, where crew members are hoping to find favour with authorities there.

Both ministries have since refuted this, arguing that the vessel did not come into the Jamaican harbour/port, but was anchored at the California Bluffs, 12 miles south of Port Royal.

The statement said the vessel’s agent made contact with the port authority and port health agents, advising of a request for 43 Jamaican crew members to be landed.

It said that between the relevant immigration and health authorities, the ship’s agent was advised that the ports were closed and that landing of the crew would require an exemption.

The ministries further added that health authorities made enquiries about 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 the crew members, 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,” the statement said.

“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 5,000 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,” it added.

Meanwhile, the ministries said that the 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 reopening of our borders to passenger traffic. We will update the public on these matters, as soon as possible”.

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