Samoan sailors stranded amid quarantine

Samoan sailors have been left stranded for days at ports around the world while waiting for their visas to be approved as countries tighten their preventative screening for the novel coronavirus. 

So far, three sailors have been stranded in Dubai, alone. 

One had been stranded in Dubai for almost a week, but is now ready to depart for New Zealand and was scheduled to return home on Friday.

But two of the man's compatriots remain stranded in Dubai while they await New Zealand visas.

The Samoa Shipping Services (S.S.S.) is facing growing difficulties ensuring sailors meet the strict requirements imposed by countries through which sailors transit on their journeys home to Samoa. 

The S.S.S.'s Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.), Lautimuia Afoa Vaai, said more than 500 Samoan sailors are employed on overseas vessels, both cargo and cruise liners. (The number includes sailors who are on leave and currently back on island.)

Another 70 in total are prepared to embark for new destinations next month.

At this stage no Samoan sailor is on a vessel with suspected coronavirus cases.

"The only difficult situation at present is the process we have to go through to meet the medical requirements of the coronavirus upon return of sailors when their contracts are completed," Lautimuia said in an emailed response to the Samoa Observer.

"We are facing increasing issues with visas and entry requirements into countries the sailors are transiting on their way back home.

"Some countries are forced to make ‘strict’ requirements to their entry visas and it’s causing delays."

He did not specify how many and where exactly they are stranded as of press time.

The sailors' being stranded has left the S.S.S. facing  increased costs and the sailors and their families untold frustration.

"But [it is] totally out of our control," said Lautimuia.

"It’s a global crisis and affecting every nation, business and people so we just have to be patient and comply."

The C.E.O. assured that they are constantly in contact with the sailors and seeking updates on their situation and the ports their vessels visit.

The S.S.S. is working with overseas shipping company partners to observe all medical requirements and ensure protection of sailors from the virus.

One of the S.S.S.'s main partners is the M.S.C. Cruise line, which, a few days ago, had one of its vessels denied the right to disembark in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

According to their website, no cases of C.O.V.I.D.-19 (as the coronavirus is known) have been reported on board any ship in M.S.C. Cruises’ fleet. 

Public health experts have warned that due to their gathering large international populations in close quarters, cruise ships can function as "floating incubators" for the spread of the virus. One ship docked in Japan, the Diamond Princess, had several dozen passengers from around the world fall victim to the virus. 

Samoa alone has denied entry to five cruise ships within the last three months, two due to measles and another three more recently due to coronavirus fears.

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