‘It was the experience of a lifetime’

SEVERAL residents in Falmouth, Trelawny, paused yesterday to welcome home the more than 1,000 Jamaicans aboard Royal Caribbean cruise line’s Adventure of the Seas which docked at the port shortly after midday.

The onlookers lined Seaboard Street in the parish capital rallying support for their countrymen who had been stranded at sea for weeks after the Government ordered the country’s air and sea ports closed to incoming passenger traffic on March 24 to tackle the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Some waved Jamaican flags, some cheered loudly, while others captured the arrival of the ship on their smartphones, concluding that the controversial matter as to whether or not the Jamaicans would be allowed into the country had finally been put to rest.

“The people them come home now. Them can’t turn them back again; a history this,” a man, who was perched on a motor vehicle across from Falmouth Courthouse recording the ship, said.

Behind him, residents lined the steps to the courthouse and in similar fashion, they too recorded the event.

Their sentiments were similar, with several shouting, “Welcome home, Jamaicans!”

Metres away, a group of three people held a Jamaican flag but were less animated than others in the vicinity.

The Jamaica Observer enquired if anyone among them had family members on-board the ship — which on Monday tarried in Haitian waters as the captain awaited clearance from the Jamaican Government to proceed — but was told no.

“We are here because they are Jamaicans and they are finally home after being stranded for so long, so we are here to show our support,” a woman offered.

Crew member Semoy Fraser, in a telephone interview with the Observer yesterday, said while she did not see the small fanfare because of her location on the ship, sailing into the port was an indescribable feeling.

“I saw the coastguard boat and they were waving to me and it was just amazing. While sailing into Jamaica I was like, I’m home. I kept thinking, I’m home. And then, at one point, my husband came in the parking lot and he started waving to me because I told him that I’m going to push something out the window so that he’ll know that’s me and that’s where I am. The kids were so happy because they were on the [phone] line in disbelief. They were saying, ‘Mommy is that you waving? Why are you so far?’

“So it was a really good feeling just being able to do that with them. It was so good to see them running up and down and all excited while I’m on the ship. I cannot fully describe how I was feeling,” Fraser said.

Her husband, Trimane, was equally overcome with joy, stating that the feeling of seeing the ship and knowing that his wife was on-board was surreal.

“This might sound weird but it was the experience of a lifetime. I didn’t think that I would be standing at the pier looking for something to tell me that that was my wife. The kids were happy because they kept asking about mommy and now she is home. It was just different. It was just lovely. Never know that she would return like this. I’m so happy I can’t even express it,” he said.

The Observer also spoke with the daughter of a male crew member aboard the ship, who said that she was still trying to process the news that her father was in Jamaican waters.

The woman, who asked to be identified as T Morris, noted that it was unlikely that she would relax until her father sets foot on Jamaican soil.

“The way the situation has been handled it’s very iffy to say what the next step is because they should have been in port from Sunday and then everything started going downhill. It was just all very frustrating,” Morris said.

To compound matters, she said the uncertainty surrounding the time period within which COVID-19 tests will be done, and the type of test to be used to ensure efficiency and timeliness in order to have her father home, has been stressful.

“It’s just a very trying situation. I am really thankful that my father is of sound mind and has remained strong mentally because when you have to read stories about the persons in isolation committing suicide or just how they’re not handling it well, it’s just not good. But he has remained strong through it and I’m glad that he did not become another statistic out there. I just want him off and home, at this point, so that he can be comfortable. He is a true patriot. He loves Jamaica. He even has a tattoo of the island imprinted on his arm, but he said what was happening made him feel like a refugee begging to come home,” Morris said.

The Adventure of the Seas vessel was given approval on Monday to enter Jamaican waters, after a prolonged public disagreement over whether or not the Government knew of the ship’s impending arrival and if it had clearance to enter Jamaican waters.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who made the announcement during a digital press conference from Jamaica House Monday, said the approval was given with specific protocols regarding the re-entry of the Jamaicans.

In the meantime, regional director of the Western Regional Health Authority Errol Greene said that the Jamaican crew members are expected to begin disembarking tomorrow.

They will do so in groups of 200 every 48 to 72 hours and will be tested at Falmouth Pier before being transported to Grand Bahia Principe Hotel in St Ann.

He said that he could not confirm whether or not COVID-19 rapid test kits will be used.

Jamaicans whose results return negative will be allowed to go home and self-quarantine but will be monitored using geofencing technology through the Government’s Jamcovid19 app.

He said, however, that the just over 300 non-Jamaicans aboard the cruise ship will not be allowed to disembark.

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