COVID kindness

COVID kindness

Foreigners stuck on boats off coast of Portland to be granted permission to remain as Gov't extends a helping hand

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 02, 2020

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THE Government is set to allow the occupants of 10 vessels which sailed into the Port Antonio Harbour, Portland after the country's borders were closed, to ride out the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Jamaican waters, as long as they do not become a drain on the country's purse.

The 10 vessels, with a combined total of 28 passengers, have been sitting in the harbour for more than a week after local authorities refused landing to those on board, in keeping with the Government's travel restrictions.

Yesterday, British national Malcolm Taylor, who is aboard a vessel christened Samba, along with his wife Esin and their two young children, Melody and Dylan, reached out to the Jamaica Observer as he appealed for them to be allowed to stay in Jamaica's waters.

Responding to the appeal, Member of Parliament for Portland Western Daryl Vaz told the Observer that while the Government's official position will be announced publicly by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith, he has suggested, and is confident, that they will be allowed to stay.

“I know that the minister has been making contact with the missions of the countries all the persons are from, and as long as there is an agreement to cover, and coordinate, their welfare such as food and the like, they will be allowed to stay.

“It would be unrealistic and unreasonable to ask Jamaican authorities to coordinate the welfare of these persons when we are already stretched dealing with this [COVID-19] crisis,” said Vaz.

“On a humanitarian basis, I could not support us turning them into the open sea with no idea where they would be allowed to port. In this difficult time of COVID-19 everyone has to look out for each other and it is natural for us in Jamaica to lend a helping hand when we can.

“I know the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of national security will address this issue urgently, based on the fact that it involves people including women and children,” added Vaz.

Late yesterday, Johnson Smith confirmed that the foreigners would not be landed but would be allowed safe harbour in Jamaican waters.

In the meantime, Taylor, who lives on Samba with his wife and two children, after they packed up their belongings and left Britain some three years ago, said the persons on the boats have chosen a different lifestyle in which they sail the world meeting new people and experiencing different cultures.

He said most of the boats now off the coast of Portland were at sea, and out of contact with the world, when Jamaica closed its boarders. According to Taylor, they came to Jamaica on a scheduled visit and are now seeking refuge from the novel coronavirus.

“This is a world crisis and the whole world has taken the same attitude of closing their borders and shutting down their harbours and airports, which is quite understandable,” said Taylor.

“We arrived here and we had no idea that Jamaica's borders were closed. We were told by Jamaican authorities that we have to keep our yellow flag up, which is our quarantine flag, and we said okay, that is fair enough.

“We understand that the country must protect its citizens and we are happy to know that there are measures in place because we are concerned for our children's health as well. So the fact is that we are in quarantine here, we are 200-300 metres from the shore and we are 100 metres away from the other boats and we are happy to sit here in quarantine,” said Taylor.

He added that they are required to keep daily records of their temperature and any medical issues which are collected by Jamaican authorities.

Taylor said there have been mixed reactions to them being here, with some persons going above the call of duty to assist them, while others want them gone immediately.

“We have been greeted with some great acts of kindness. These have included someone getting us milk to make yogurt for the children and some cola for my rum, and he would not accept any money no matter how much we insisted,” said Taylor.

“Someone also got us a gas cylinder and regulator as our cooking gas was about to run out. A local market owner took an order via WhatsApp for groceries and then brought them to the harbour police who took him, and the groceries, to the boat so we could pay him by credit card as we have no local currency.

“Then we had asked the harbour police where we could buy some fresh fruit, explaining the grocery store doesn't sell them and we had none for the kids. Then out of the blue a big bunch of bananas arrived at the boat, we still don't know who sent them. Please don't get me wrong, we are not seeking charity; however, these acts of kindness have really touched our hearts and restored our belief in human nature,” added Taylor.

He pointed out that the fresh fruit and vegetable situation is a bit of a problem for them as their normal way of life is to visit the vegetable markets in the countries they visit and try as many of the local delights as possible.

“Unfortunately, the markets do not have websites or Internet presence for us to be able to reach out to them and buy their produce. If there is anyone who would have contacts of persons we could buy fresh produce from it would be fantastic and very much appreciated,” declared Taylor as he expressed regret about those Jamaicans who want them out immediately.

“I do not understand why are we under such duress to leave, especially when all countries are closed now and there is nowhere to go. We implore you, show some compassion, some humanitarian insight. Apply rules that show understanding and common sense to all, such as the World Health Organisation guidelines.

“To those in power, we say please, please, see this for what it is: a world crisis where every country is closed and every human is at risk.

“We are isolated. We are not a threat while sitting out here at anchor. Please do not demand your officials force us all to leave without a safe haven to head to. This doesn't show any concern for our well-being or safety, which is exactly what all the quarantine measures are for, to protect humanity. I don't believe you really want to get rid of us to just hear we perished at sea,” added Taylor.

The Observer has since learnt that there was an initial confusion among some officials who believed that since the people on the boats were refused permission to land, it meant that they could not stay in Jamaica's waters.

That is expected to be clarified by the security ministry shortly.


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