But it is a bittersweet moment for some cruise ship workers who plan to sue Gov't

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, May 07, 2020

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THEIR faces displayed broad smiles having returned to the place they call home, but for some of the 43 cruise ship workers arriving yesterday, their hearts are heavy.

The group is part of the 115 passengers who landed aboard a TUI Airways charter flight from the United Kingdom after being stranded at sea when the Government closed the nation's borders on March 24 amid the spread of COVID-19.

Eight have retained attorney-at-law Jennifer Housen to pursue a lawsuit against the Government for having experienced extreme distress over recent weeks related to an inability to return to the island.

“Yes, it will be. There's nothing stopping that,” Housen told the Jamaica Observer yesterday in an interview when asked about her clients' intention to file a lawsuit against the Government.

“Their constitutional rights have been infringed. They have been harmed by that. Your Government denied you entry. The Government keeps talking about hundreds and thousands of persons [stranded] abroad, but this is different. As it relates to these persons here, the concern and the very worrying aspect of it is that they were home. The Government chose not to let them come into their home country.

“And so, as far as I am concerned, that in itself gives rise to a potential suit against the Jamaican Government because it is a constitutional right to enter your country, and they weren't given that. And as such, most definitely, it is likely to result in a lawsuit given that they have suffered loss variously and also for the distress, the harm caused,” Housen, who spoke on behalf of her clients, said.

The Jamaicans, who were crew members aboard the Marella Discovery 2 cruise ship, came close to home on April 2 when the ship stopped 12 miles south of Port Royal for refuelling.

According to one member of the group, a request for them to disembark went unanswered by the Government, forcing them to journey to Europe. The vessel eventually docked in Southampton, England, and the Jamaicans remained on-board the ship until they were repatriated yesterday.

The Jamaican Government, which initially declined to comment on the matter, said the ship had left before it was able to convey approval for entry.

Housen noted that the suit is likely to be filed according to the provisions set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms outlined in Chapter III of the Jamaican Constitution, which speaks to the right of “every citizen of Jamaica to enter Jamaica”.

The constitution says, too, that the enjoyment of these rights and freedoms, however, is “subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest”.

But it says, in the case of public interest, individual rights may also be suspended in a manner prescribed by the constitution; for example, in the event of war, calamity, or threat of subversion.

Yesterday, a crew member of the cruise ship told members of the media that he was “beaming” at the thought of being home.

The man, who did not give his name, said that it was difficult to have come so close to home more than a month ago and not gain entry.

But Alvar Small, another crew member from the Marella Discovery 2, said “life was good” for the six months he was at sea. A resident of Moneague in St Ann, Small said having food and accommodation made his time away from home bearable.

“It was not bad. The greatest thing is life, bro,” said Small.

A female crew member, who spoke to the Observer by phone while en route to St Ann, where the group will be tested and quarantined for at least 14 days, said that it was “an amazing feeling” to be back home.

“We disembarked the ship from 4:30 am UK time and until now we still really haven't gotten anything substantial to eat or we haven't gotten any rest. But, it's a great feeling to set foot on Jamaican soil. When we left the ship this morning we felt so excited knowing that we were finally coming home [and happy] that something had happened and good sense had prevailed and we were heading home,” she said.

The three were among the total 75 cruise ship workers who returned with the group last evening at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.

Eighty-three-year-old Selvin Findlay was among another set of Jamaicans stranded in the UK and had expressed a desire to return home having experienced hardship.

“I'm glad to get home,” the Santa Cruz resident said. “I was very happy. It was too cold over there.”

He will be celebrating his 84th birthday in two weeks.

The group, which was met by scores of health-care professionals, several fitted in hazmat suits and occupying a largely empty airport, returned under the Government's controlled re-entry programme.

The Government is to spend $64 million to quarantine them and another 115 Jamaicans who are to arrive in the island this week.

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