Seafarers ready to head back out
A year after they were forced to roam the high seas as countries, including Jamaica, closed their borders to international travel amid the rise in COVID-19 cases, several local seafarers are headed back to the waters.
If it were up to them, they would remain on land where they admit it is much safer.
But with economies buckling under the pressure of the deadly coronavirus which has forced frequent lockdowns and shuttered businesses, families are struggling to make ends meet.
“I’m not working a full-time job at the moment,” said Jerome Cameron, who does housekeeping (utilities) onboard Marella Discovery 2, “It’s really difficult. I can’t get any job here so that’s the reason why I’m going out back.”
Cameron was among the 43 Jamaicans stuck at sea when they were denied entry into the country in April last year after a request for permission for them to disembark went unanswered by the Jamaican Government, which had over a week before on March 24, closed the country’s borders to incoming passengers in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, locally. They were 12 miles south of Port Royal refuelling.
“At the moment there’s no work in Jamaica and I have my two kids to take care of,” the 35-year-old told the Jamaica Observer in a follow-up interview last week.
“It’s not really something I like doing but the money is better than if I was working at home. I plan to do two more trips then try to look for work on land again. You get the money but you don’t get time with your family. So after my contract expires that’s it,” said Cameron, who has been a cruise ship worker since 2019.
He is expected to leave the island next month on condition that he will take the COVID-19 vaccine.
A CNN report said cruise ship operators have been permitted to begin simulated voyages with volunteer passengers, based upon an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It said that guidelines were a new phase in the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, released in October as a phased approach for preventing Covid-19 transmission aboard cruise ships and eventually resuming cruises with paying passengers.
Several operators have since indicated that workers must receive the COVID-19 vaccine to continue working with them.
Taking the vaccine is secondary to Clinton Griffiths who is also preparing for departure next month. He, too, was among the Jamaicans aboard Marella Discovery 2.
“Nothing is happening much in Jamaica so it’s something that I have to do. I just have to do it. All that happened last year with us being stuck. I just kind of lift it off my head and move on. With the corona now, I am worried but it is about doing the right thing and protecting yourself. It’s up to you to protect yourself.
“People have to work. Living has to go on any way you take it. The bills don’t stop because of corona or because you don’t have a job. I have one daughter and one more on the way so I just have to go out there and look it. I have to do what I have to do,” the 32-year-old told the Sunday Observer.
He has been a part of the industry since 2019.
“They say we have to take it onboard otherwise we can’t work with them. Everything is determined by it. It’s something we have to take down somewhere down the line based on how I see it. If something is to happen to us it will have to happen because of the situation we’re in right now we don’t have any other option. Sometimes you take risks and they work out and sometimes they don’t. This is a risk I have to take for my family,” said Griffiths, who does sanitation on board the ship.
Mark Sinclair is a father of seven. For him, staying home is not an option.
“It’s not [an] easy task when we out there but you know you have to do what you have to do to make sure seh the kids them allright — the family in general allright. Bills affi pay; food affi eat. Since mi come back it rough enuh; it rough when you have nothing doing to bring home an income. You realise that the sugar start to run outta the pan and there’s nowhere to refill it. So it’s been hard so I’m heading back.
“I’m a little bit worried about the COVID and all but if I tell you I’m not worried I’d be lying. For me, mi put God first and put mi trust in him and ask him to guide and protect me while I decide to go out back. Then you hear so many things going on with this vaccine but the company is saying it’s compulsory. So if I affi do it fi go up back then I will. It’s not something that I 100 per cent want to do but you know, to make the wheel turn and put bread on the table you have to do what you have to do,” the 56-year-old Disney Fantasy pool host shared.
He has been a seafarer for approximately 10 years.
“It’s a big sacrifice. When you leave yuh kids them small and when yuh come back a big people. Yuh nuh spend much time wid them but when the going gets tough the tough get going,” he said.
Charles Stevens is preparing to return to the waters in August when Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Azamara is expected to set sail. Since his return to the island, things have been difficult.
“It has been very stressful. I had to get a little part-time thing but it’s still hand to mouth. I’m barely meeting my bills you know but I’m trying. I’m just hanging in there. I can’t wait to go back out. I’ve been doing it for over six years now and to be here basically doing nothing is hard. A soon as I can get to take the vaccine I’m taking it so that I can get back out there because things are very hard,” Stevens, a butcher on board, told the Sunday Observer.
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