Covid-19 Stranded Samoan Seafarers Feel Desperate and Neglected

The MSC Armonia where 12 Samoan seamen have been quarantined for three months off the Bahamas, are begging for help to return home.

 

Staff Reporters

 

“The Samoan seamen who are begging the Samoan Government to return home said last night that the United Nations has taken interest in their case.”

 

APIA, SAMOA – 18 MAY 2020: The 12 Samoan sailors that have been quarantined on the sea for the last three months off the coast of the Bahamas, are feeling neglected by the Samoan Government and the Samoa Shipping Services (SSS) that supervise their working contracts with their employer Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).

A spokesman for the group Puletiu Atoa Taulapapa Pā’o, made an emotional plea for help in a video clip that has been widely circulated on social media in the weekend. He said the coronavirus pandemic has forced the closure of all cruise ship travel, leaving himself and other Samoan sailors jobless and stranded with some facing emotional and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The men are employed on MSC Armonia, one of the cruise liners owned by the Mediterranean Shipping Company. They are only a small part of around 400 Samoan sailors currently employed on 17 different cruise liners excluding container ships, all affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Samoan seamen Puletiu Atoa Taulapapa Pā’o says the UN has taken interest in their case.

In the video, Puletiu claimed they have not worked for three months and were no longer paid by MSC and pleaded with the Samoan government to get them back home “as we belong to the (Samoan) land and we don’t want to die here.”

Since the pandemic and the close of international borders, SSS told the sailors to be patient and wait out the lock-down period on the cruise ships.

The General Manager Samoa Shipping Services, Lautimuia Afoa told the local media that all Samoan seafarers have been briefed on the current situation with border restrictions and the reason there are delays in bringing them home.

“They are being taken care of by the shipping liners and the cruise ships are similar to staying in a hotel,” he added. He also said they are in contact with the seamen daily.

He also said that the Samoan sailors are not the only group of Samoans stranded overseas wanting to come home. He said any arrangements to bring them home would have to follow strict protocols to ensure that the rest of the country in not put in danger.

“We then requested the shipping companies if they could wait out the lock-down periods on the cruise ships,” said Lautimuia.

Foreign Sailors evacuated except Samoans
Puletiu said it is obvious the Samoan government does not want to evacuate them even though they are the only foreign sailors now remaining. Last night, he said all the foreign sailors from 5 ships including the MSC Armonia are being flown to Europe where they can charter flights organized between the company and the sailors’ respective governments.

Puletiu who has served three months of a nine months contract, said he wants nothing more than to be home with his wife, children, parents and family.

“We fear that we are in the middle of the virus and other Samoan sailors have been affected. We see through the PMs media interviews that everything in Samoa is ready for the pandemic and we could be quarantined in those facilities at the airport when we arrive, but all we want is to be home,” he begged.

Lautimuia Afoa confirmed that three preliminary tests of the Samoan sailors were returned positive but follow up tests came up negative all three are well and have recovered.

The Samoa Shipping Services continues to make daily contact with the companies employing Samoan sailors and seafarers and says SSS has also explained them the reasons why they cannot be repatriated at this time.

In the weekend, the Prime Minister urged the Samoa seafarers to be patient, learn to keep themselves busy, and await the opening of international borders.

He said the safest place for these seafarers is on board the ships where they are being taken care of in all areas including wages. He said repatriation has many risks with the number of flights needed, so they are much safer being cared for on board the ships for now.

United Nations contact
Meanwhile, Puletiu said last night that the United Nations has taken interest in their case. This was after he posted his video online and various Samoans around the world shared it and others sought help from on the diplomatic level. He said the United Nations had made contact and wanted information about themselves and the ships they are on. Talamua is waiting for confirmation of this.

In Apia this morning, several individuals organized a meeting of the relatives of the seamen at the Malaefatu Park this Wednesday morning, so they can prepare a collective presentation to the Prime Minister for assistance to evacuate the stranded Samoan seamen.