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PM Holness Statement: Government Finalizing Negotiation to Repatriate Jamaicans

PM Holness Statement: Government Finalizing Negotiation to Repatriate Jamaicans

The Government of Jamaica from the outset of the COVID19 Pandemic has been exploring ways to safely return home our Jamaican Nationals stranded in foreign countries or on ships overseas.

To achieve this, we established a controlled re-entry process which has to date seen over 350 Jamaicans return home in accordance with our quarantine regulations. We want to get our Jamaicans back home to their family and loved ones. We understand the frustration of being at sea for such a long time and now the anticipation of being close to home on the final leg of the journey.

Since April 21, the Government has had formal exchanges with the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) on how best to effectuate the return of Jamaican ship workers while at the same time fulfilling the minimum 14 days quarantine requirement.

The last correspondence between RCCL and the Jamaican Government was a request from RCCL made on May 15, 2020 for a conference call with relevant agencies to work out details of the re-entry.  Up to this point, no date for arrival was agreed and no approval was given. I indicated in Parliament last Tuesday, when asked by the Opposition Spokesman on National Security, that we were in ongoing negotiations regarding the return of cruise ship workers, but those discussions were not yet finalized. To this point, the ministers assigned to deal with the re-entry of Jamaican cruise ship workers have not had any final request or even notice from RCCL of the current proposed date they intend to enter Jamaican territorial waters or seek to dock in our ports.

I have been informed by the Port Authority that they have given no approvals to the ship.

The Government of Jamaica has noted postings on social media and press statements from the Opposition regarding the cruise ship coming to Jamaica by a particular date. If it is true that the ship intends to sail into Jamaican waters without formal approval or even courtesy of notice, while discussions are still ongoing, then this would represent a serious departure from good maritime practices, and a serious breach of good faith and the cooperative nature of the dialogue we have been having on this matter. Indeed this would not be in the spirit of the good relations Jamaica has had with RCCL over the years.

We note a previous instance on May 1, 2020 where a purported employee of RCCL was reported in the  media claiming that the Government of Jamaica had requested the cruise ship to pay a certain amount for the quarantining of Jamaican ship workers to be repatriated. No such request was ever made and it was subsequently denied by RCCL.

It is important for the public to understand that the objective of the negotiation with RCCL is to receive the vessel in a manner that is safe for the Jamaicans onboard the ship and the public health of the island. We have requested information from the ship which will aid in this process when provided.

Further, while it was always the intention of the Government to accept the ship, this can only be done when we have mobilized the resources to do so. We have seen the negative outcome and discomfort caused to the last cohort of repatriated Jamaicans, when we make well intentioned decisions without sufficient resources in place to properly execute.

We expect to continue our discussions with RCCL to finalize the re-entry process, and we also expect to demobilize other quarantine operations later this week that would release resources to assist in managing the vessel and providing our Jamaicans with a safe and convenient re-entry experience, as quickly as possible.