Government has a responsibility to care for stranded sailors
The Government’s decision to postpone the flight from Los Angeles that was supposed to have repatriated close to 300 Samoans home for Christmas last Friday was understandable. For the sake of protecting more than 200,000 lives on these remote shores, it made sense to risk the ire of some unhappy Samoans wanting to come home to save an entire nation.
We appreciate that the decision to cancel the flight last minute would not have been easy for the Government to make, especially given the fact that the passengers were Samoan citizens who have every right to return. Besides, it is also the Government’s responsibility, like many other governments around the world are doing, to ensure citizens are safely repatriated. It is what you’d expect from any decent Government especially at a time of unimaginable tragedy and a global crisis in the form of the COVID19.
Which explains why Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was unusually very apologetic when he announced the decision a few days before the flight was supposed to leave Los Angeles. Love him or loathe him, there is decency and humanity in every mankind. The Prime Minister would have known that the decision would crush the spirits of Samoans who are desperate to be reunited with their families and loved ones.
It is undeniable, however, that the Government’s decision was embraced and welcomed with a collective sigh of relief by people living in Samoa, especially given the uncertainty surrounding two positive COVID19 cases who are being isolated and monitored at Moto’otua.
But this issue is complex, complicated and will undoubtedly divide opinions. Whereas Samoans in Samoa have a right to be protected and to be isolated from a virus that has already killed millions around the world, Samoans stuck overseas also have a right to come home.
On the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer, a story about the plight of sailors stuck in the United States was a heartbreaking read. Three weeks away from Christmas, it’s difficult to imagine the pain and suffering the sailors and their families must be going through. We are talking about people who have been separated for a lot longer than what they expected because of the virus.
Yes it was a sacrifice for these sailors to leave Samoa in pursuit of greener pastures and better money opportunities overseas. They would have known this when they signed their contracts and said their goodbyes at the Faleolo airport.
But none of them, including the companies that hired them, ever imagined that a catastrophe like COVID19 would unfold and turn things upside down. The Government wouldn’t have had an inkling either. Which means no one would have been prepared for such an eventuality like the one the world is struggling with today.
And as you are reading this, we can only feel for the sailors and their families.
“We were so happy. We were really looking forward to coming home,” Puletiu Pao Taulapapa said. “It was one day before we were going to come home. There was a letter that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T.) signed off on. They canceled the flight. We were really sad. We want to come home.”
But missing home and longing to be reunited with loved ones is only part of their problems.
“One of my brothers here, he cannot work on the ship. He has a heart problem …” Puletiu said. “We aren’t happy at all. The ship has begun to feed us expired foods. They gave us expired drinks. We have to buy food but we are not working. We have no money. We have nothing to rely on only God.”
It’s a difficult situation and from what we are told, the employer has done its best to provide for the Samoan workers long enough. What’s made matters worse is that the company has already hired the replacement of the Samoan sailors, after the Government had confirmed they were bound for home.
Who should be responsible for the sailors now?
The simple answer is the Government. While we haven’t heard from them officially, it would be extremely disappointing if they were not already working to help these sailors. As Samoan citizens, in the absence of a repatriation flight to which they are entitled, the next best thing is for the Government to ensure they are looked after and cared for. That care should include food, accommodation and some sort of stipend to ensure they get their very basic needs.
While this is being done, we also hope they can look at the safest possible way to bring them home as soon as possible, even if it means an extended period of quarantine somewhere else before they come home. We know they pose a huge risk to this country in terms of being potential transporters for the virus but they are our people and they deserve to be treated with respect and to be shown love and care. What do you think?
Spare a thought for those sailors, their families and loved ones. Don’t forget them in your prayers. Have a beautiful Thursday Samoa, God bless!