Daughters make desperate plea for father's return

The family of a Nofoali'i and Vaipua sailor, Niu Falepau, who is stranded in Miami Florida with 79 other Samoan sailors, has issued a desperate plea to the Government to bring their father home.

Seilaoa, Paluava, Rejoice and their mother, Vaifou Falepau, say they are worried about 55-year-old Mr. Falepau's health.

Mr. Falepau cannot work if he wanted to. He suffers from a heart condition, his wife Vaifou Faleapau said.

“His heart beats irregularly, that is his illness,” Vaifou said.

When Vaifou and her daughters learned of the 27 November flight cancellation, they cried. Mr. Falepau was supposed to be on that flight from Los Angeles to Faleolo.

“What else is there to do? We just cried – we are looking at him, and he is looking at us [on a Facebook video call],” Vaifou said.

Like her mother, Niu’s 14-year-old daughter Paluava wants him home and she is pleading with the Government to repatriate him and his fellow sailors. She worries that her father is not eating well.

“My father says they have nothing to buy food and they are not being fed well," she said. "I really want him to come home because the pandemic is all over America and he might catch the virus. I wanted to see him but their flight was canceled.

“I was so sad when the flight was canceled. I want to see my father because has been gone for a really long time, since last year. He said he was coming but then the flight on which he was supposed to come was canceled. “

She called on Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi to do something. 

“Can you please bring my father and the sailors who are on the boats home?" Paluava said. 

"None of them have caught the virus. They are on a boat, they are not on land and they are not being cared for by their families. But the people who have been allowed to be repatriated, they were cared for by their families. But the sailors are not on land, they are on the ocean."

Her older sister, Seilaoa Falepau, 20, agrees.

So many things were prepared for their father’s return home, Seilaoa said.

Meanwhile, in Canada, a former seafarer has taken up as a labour of love, the cause to advocate for repatriation of Samoa’s sailors.

Krista Thomas, 38, used to work onboard cruise ships. She told the Observer when you have worked on a ship there is a camaraderie that remains for a lifetime.

 In April, she started a Facebook group originally meant to connect crew waiting for repatriation. There are other administrators in Alberta, Canada and New York.

“We never knew that it would amount to the time that has passed, the burdens that they have faced, and the pain and suffering it caused. So the group became a help desk, with over one thousand crew in one group, and their family members in another, so that we can try to campaign and help them get home,” said Thomas.

Some Samoan sailors are really struggling with the devastation, she added.

“When you have worked on a ship, you understand the camaraderie that remains in place for a lifetime. I am closer to people that I spent six months at sea with, ten years ago, than I am any of my friends here on land. It is a family, a brotherhood and sisterhood that does not easily die. And they are not being heard... too much of the world has their eyes turned to what is happening. They have a right to come home,” said Thomas.

She initiated an online petition at change.org titled “Save Samoan Crew Members Forgotten At Sea.” It calls on the Samoa government to repatriate the seafarers who are suffering from depression. Thomas also calls on the United Nations to assist with repatriation.

As of press time Wednesday, the petition had collected 355 signatures.

One Samoan sailor lost his mother early this year.

A second sailor lost his father last week. None of his siblings are in Samoa so his mother buried their father alone.

“It is so very sad and difficult for them to grieve this way,” Thomas said.

The men are not utilizing resources available through their employers the Mediterranean Shipping Company (M.S.C.) to deal with their depression because many question the integrity and confidentiality of the system.

“They are left with little resources but one another,” she said.

Thomas is aware of Niu’s heart condition but she does not know his name.

Two of his shipmates expressed to the Observer grave concern for their friend.

“We take care of him. He needs to come home,” said Puletiu Pao Taulapapa.

Niu’s wife Vaifou said her youngest child, Rejoice Falepau, 7, has suggested that her father swim home.

“My youngest daughter, when she talks to her father, she tells him ‘Dad, come home now’ (Dad, sau loa). He says ‘we are coming’ and she believes him. She tells him to swim quickly and come home,” said Vaifou.

There are 80 sailors in Miami and 60 Samoan sailors in other parts of the globe.

Around 400,000 seafarers are thought to be stranded on ships worldwide due to failure of government to allow travel to and from vessels during the COVID-19 crisis, reports Splash 24/7 in a 1 December article.

With many seafarers facing a second December away from home, United Kingdom trade union Nautilus International is calling on governments to “deliver seafarers home for Christmas.”

They have launched a petition urging the U.N. and governments around the world to allow them to pass through borders.



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