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Samoans trapped at sea due to coronavirus have pleaded with their government to allow them to return home.
The 321 Samoan seafarers working on commercial and cruise ships around the world have been told by their government to be patient, since Samoa closed its borders in March to all travellers including returning citizens.
Thirty-five of the seafarers whose contracts ended at the beginning of the pandemic are concerned for their families as their sources of income have stopped. Twelve of them are stranded on MSC Armonia, a cruise ship moored off the coast of the Bahamas.
“It has been almost three months since we have been stranded. We are no longer working. We have not been paid for almost three months, we merely are just waiting. We do not feel safe on these ships, we need your help,” said Puletiu Taulapapa Sagale, one of the men on MSC Armonia.
His plea was posted in a Facebook video viewed more than 90,000 times. In the video he describes a feeling of helplessness and fear among the Samoan seafarers. Samoan seafarer Sagale pleaded with Samoa to make an exception to the border closure and let them return home.
In response, Lautimuia Afoa Uelese Vaai, the chief executive officer of Samoa Shipping Services, who is responsible for the contracts of the seafarers, said the men were safe.
“We explained the terms and progress of negotiations with the shipping companies to these 35 sailors, that we will return them home once the pandemic ends.” Vaai, in his public statement, said the men were looked after by the shipping companies who hired them.
But Jorge Contesse, law professor and director of the Center for Transnational Law, Rutgers University said the seafarers had the right to return to their home country and were protected under the 2006 maritime labour convention (MLC).
“Under this convention seafarers are entitled to be repatriated at no cost to themselves.” Samoa ratified the convention in 2013.
“Samoa has a duty to protect its citizens and therefore it should activate diplomatic communications and legal proceedings if necessary,” said Contesse.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) committee responsible for the MLC issued a statement on Covid-19 in April that addressed this issue.
“It has been disturbing to see reports that many port states have imposed local regulations and travel and quarantine restrictions on international seafarers.”
An information note issued in April by the ILO to employers, workers and member states including Samoa said they should make every attempt to comply with their obligations under the MLC and ensure the Covid-19 pandemic was not used as an excuse to breach it.
In an email to the Miami Herald this month, MSC Cruises company spokesperson Luca Biondolilo said the majority of MSC crew left at sea lived in countries where borders were still closed.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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