South Africans stranded on cruise ships set to come home at last

South Africans stranded on cruise ships set to come home at last
epa08284760 Port workers wearing protective gear and masks work along the portside of the Grand Princess cruise ship at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California, USA, 10 March 2020. At least 21 people onboard the ship tested positive for coronavirus. According to reports, up to 1,500 passengers will be allowed to disembarked today. Passengers who are citizens of the USA will be transported to military facilities across the US - including Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California and Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Georgia - where they will stay in quarentine for 14 days. International passengers will be repatriated to their home countries. The cruise ship is linked to California's first death from the disease COVID-19, which is caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus.(Photo: EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO)

They have been at sea since coronavirus restrictions were imposed in March. 

Over 250 South African crew members of cruise ships stranded at sea since March will, at last, complete their epic voyage by flying home this week, from the Netherlands.

If all goes well. Which is quite a big if. 

They have been trapped in limbo on various cruise ships of the company Carnival Cruise Line, mainly off the US west coast, by the travel restrictions that the US and Mexico imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

When the US would not let the South Africans and a few Zimbabweans disembark from two of the ships, the Grand Princess and the Koningsdam, the ships sailed south to Mexico in May. The crew of the Grand Princess was then transferred to the Koningsdam. 

At first, Mexican authorities would not allow the crew to disembark. But eventually they did and the ship berthed in Puerto Vallarta late in May. Crew members of various other nationalities flew home on scheduled or charter flights from Mexico but the South African government would not allow a repatriation flight from there.

The South African crew were instead flown via Cancun to Barbados  where they embarked on yet another ship, the Emerald Princess on 25 May and then sailed for Rotterdam, arriving there on 3 June.

They expected to fly home almost immediately and the ship company arranged a charter flight for them from Amsterdam. But then they were unable to get permission from the South African authorities to land in South Africa. 

The ship’s captain told them Pretoria had said this was because quarantine accommodation was not available for them in South Africa, which has been the reason given for the delays of many other repatriation flights.  

South Africans stranded aboard have to go into 14 days of quarantine on their return, though some have been allowed to leave early after arranging their own coronavirus tests, and proving negative. 

The South African crew members remained stuck on board the Emerald Princess in Rotterdam harbour for several more days. 

However, on Tuesday this week the ship’s captain announced from the bridge that the South African authorities had just granted permission for the charter company to land. He told them their charter flight home would leave Amsterdam on the evening of Thursday 11 June, arriving at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, on Friday. DM


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