26 Jun 2020

NZ help sought in repatriating Samoans stranded on ships

2:11 pm on 26 June 2020

The New Zealand government says it is open to helping Samoa's government repatriate hundreds of citizens stranded on cruise ships due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This picture taken on June 9, 2019 shows a MSC Magnifica cruise ship, seen from San Maggiore's bell tower, arriving in the Venice Lagoon carried by three tugboats.

Photo: AFP

About 400 Samoan workers employed on 17 different cruise liners, including the MSC Armonia, most of which are anchored off the Miami coast, are desperate to return home.

The Finance, Industrial, Retail, Stores & Transport, or FIRST, Union wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters on the 29th May, asking whether New Zealand would consider aiding in the repatriation of the Samoan workers.

The President of FIRST Union, Robert Reid, said Mr Peters agreed that consular assistance could be provided if requested.

"New Zealand government say they are open to hearing requests from the Samoan government and its incumbent on the Samoan government really to do what it can for these 400 stranded seafarers," Mr Reid explained.

In the letter, FIRST Union also requested New Zealand financial assistance for the Samoan government to repatriate the workers stuck in the Caribbean. New Zealand replied that it wouldn't help on that front.

Winston Peters

Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"There are commercial flights coming back from the US, so we are now going back to the shipping companies to make sure they do what is required in those seafarers' contracts and that is to bring them back to their country of origin if possible," Mr Reid said.

The president of FIRST Union mentioned in the letter if New Zealand could provide quarantine services because they do not want to see the seafarers coming back to their country with any infection.

"Samoa is Covid-free and it must remain that way," Mr Reid said.

"If they are happy for the Samoan workers to come back through New Zealand to Samoa, then we are hopeful that they would see their way clear to providing such services to New Zealand.

The Samoa chapter of the FIRST Union is grateful that New Zealand will help get hundreds of Samoan seafarers' home, after spending three months stranded in cruise ships in the Caribbean.

Union organiser Saina Tomi said this is extremely helpful as Samoa is still in a State of Emergency.

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Photo: Samoa First Union

"Our government want to keep the borders closed because we don't want our little island to be affected by this pandemic," she said.

Ms Tomi said that one of the reasons why they contacted New Zealand's FIRST Union was because for a majority of their union members who are stranded, their flight route home means transiting in New Zealand.

"Knowing that New Zealand is on alert level one and have opened their borders for flights from the U.S.A, we are hoping they would help with transit for the seafarers to make their way back home."

Samoa First Union is also waiting to hear back from the International Transport Federation on the planned route for the Samoan seafarers to return to the Pacific.