I don’t know when last I’ve felt so upset after listening to something on radio. The 43 Jamaican crew members on the Marella Discovery 2 who finally landed in Jamaica last night deserved a decent homecoming; they received just the opposite.
Earlier today I heard Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson telling media that she made a point of personally going to the Airport to meet the Marella crewmembers who had just spent a grueling few weeks battering about from port to port.
It was the least that could be done for folks who had been through such an ordeal the Minister suggested, and I felt happy that she thought it important to be there when the Marella crew finally came home.
But that happiness soon dissipated after I heard two of the crewmembers describing their landing in Kingston last night. They had boarded the flight in Southampton, England yesterday morning and reached Kingston about 9 pm, thrilled to be home but hungry, thirsty and exhausted.
They had to be processed one by one as usual by Immigration. Then they boarded a bus where those who got out early had to wait three hours for the remaining crewmembers to all be processed and come aboard.
Jason (not his real name) told @djmiller that he was so weak with hunger he almost fainted, and begged an officer for some biscuits and water to keep them going. He had to ask twice before snacks and drink were provided.
Stacey Ann (not her real name) said she was dying to go to the bathroom but was told that wasn’t possible because they couldn’t get off the bus as there weren’t enough people to ‘guard’ them.
After arguing that they were not prisoners and didn’t need guarding and insisting on their basic human rights the crewmembers were allowed to use the bathroom.
Eventually they reached a hotel where most of them were given some food although inexplicably a few didn’t receive any.
They must have known how tired and hungry we’d be after such a long flight, the time difference and so on, yet no one offered us so much as a hot drink when we arrived, said Jason.
It’s quite clear from everything the crewmembers said that no thought had been given to the reception of these exhausted Jamaicans who had been at sea, literally and figuratively, like people without a country for the last 5 weeks or more.
The story gets worse if you take into account the ordeal these 43 Jamaicans had faced BEFORE reaching Jamaica, aboard a ship that wasn’t allowed to dock or land anywhere for weeks.
It was April 2 when the Marella had first shown up, a mere 12 miles away from Kingston’s shores to refuel, asking permission to land the Jamaican crewmembers.
They were told that given that Jamaica had closed its ports, in response to COVID-19, this would require an exemption. Which on the face of it should have been a simple and straightforward maneuver.
“Instead, over 24 hours, it seems, the Government dithered until the ship’s captain rescinded his request and sailed to the Dominican Republic, where that country’s citizens who were among the crew disembarked,” reported a Gleaner editorial.
Jason told @djmillerJA he cried on April 3, when the captain said he had to leave Jamaican waters because after a day waiting, there was no word from the Government whether it would grant landing to him and 42 others.
Crewmembers from other countries taunted him and the other Jamaicans, jeering and saying clearly their country didn’t want them back.
It’s not clear why the government kept the ship waiting. “Keeping a cruise ship idle at sea is expensive business,” said the Gleaner editorial, concluding, “Jamaica failed in its obligation to those citizens.”
I must agree. In retrospect I think it would been far better for the foreign minister to have put someone in charge of welcoming home the 43 citizens who spent the last 5-6 weeks wondering if they had a country anymore.
Instead of the politically cunning gesture –what a photo op, “Minister Kamina Johnson Smith greets returning crewmembers in person”—the Minister should have put the welfare of the returnees first.
Might there may be a political cost to the bungling of the Marella Discovery 2 Affair? Let’s wait and see.