Sailors all at sea after border closure

Sailors returning home and intended to touch base in Samoa this week have been affected by the New Zealand border closure, which came into effect on Thursday night.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that visitors who are not residents or citizens of their respective countries will soon be turned away at the border, as their coronavirus cases increased quickly over the week.

Sailors posted overseas, typically fly home transiting via New Zealand. But with the removal of that option many will be left at sea. 

For this reason, Samoan sailors are not able to come home, the Samoa Shipping Services (S.S.S.) General Manager, Lautimuia Afoa Vaai announced on Friday.

The notice issued on social media said the S.S.S. had negotiated with the vessel companies and employers to keep the men on-board for their safety.

Lautimuia stated that for convenience, the S.S.S. is keeping in close contact with Samoan senior sailors on board for further information and awaiting more commands.

Families and friends in the country are encouraged to stay prayerful and hope that none of their sons get infected with the virus spreading like fire all over the world.

Within minutes of the announcement's posting online, families and friends responded by tagging their sons, relatives and partners who are still overseas, sending prayers, thoughts and encouragement.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, members of a group of 25 Samoan crew on a cruise ship said their safety on board was assured despite their missing their families desperately. 

Their contracts were extended amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A sailor on the MSC Meraviglia, Titi Mika said he is confident that they are not at risk, saying that they are mainly in America and Mexico where the health security is very tight and well managed.

"We're always keeping our prayers and staying positive and our country and families should also do the same," he said.

Despite longing to be reunited with his daughter, Mr. Mika is positive he'll be back in three months time with the other Samoan sailors.

Last week, Lautimuia Afoa Uelese Vaai said a total of 60 Samoan sailors are maintaining and extending their contracts on the ships due to the pandemic.

“[The] safest option for us is to delay their contracts until further notice because the ships visit the affected countries on those sides of the world,” he said.

“Our sailors are safe especially on the ship and we’re being updated daily of their welfare on the ships and so far from the shipping company, they’re very safe.”

Late last month, Samoan sailors were 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. 

The S.S.S. has reportedly been facing growing difficulties ensuring sailors meet the strict requirements imposed by countries through which sailors transit on their journeys home to Samoa.

There 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.)


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