The pandemic has produced many stories of hardship and upheaval for the global seafaring community, with recent reports on the challenges for a group of citizens of I-Kiribati highlighting the continuing challenges crews face around the world. . However, for a group of residents of the tiny Pacific island nation, some of whom have been away for as long as two years, their journey home ends in style aboard a chartered cruise ship.
The international organization Human Rights at Sea working with global partners draws attention to the plight of nearly 200 Kiribati seafarers currently scattered around the world awaiting resolution of their travel problems. The challenge comes from the Kiribati government’s current decision to close its borders to international travel despite calls from human rights groups and shipowners and operators, including Maersk, who sought to repatriate sailors stranded on chartered flights.
“The government in Tarawa (the capital of Kiribati) has repeatedly refused our suggestions, including covering all costs, to repatriate sailors stranded in Brisbane directly from Australia to Kiribati by plane,” Maersk said. to HRAS speaking on behalf of international shipping companies.
The charity reports that the shipping companies have sought to bring the sailors together in groups at various points around the world and, if possible, transfer them to intermediate countries in the Pacific region in the hope of organizing the last leg of the voyage. back. So a group of 165 sailors from I-Kiribati ended up in Fiji. HRAS reports that there are also 39 people in Australia, 37 in Germany, 12 in Indonesia and 15 in South Korea. Local humanitarian organizations worked to support communities.
Deutsche Seemannsmission in Germany helped people in Hamburg. HRAS organized social events for sailors stranded in Australia while seeking a solution to the travel dilemma. The shipping companies had hoped to organize charters transferring much of the crew to Australia and then on a charter flight back. When that didn’t work, they worked to move them to neighboring Fiji.
The Kiribati government indicated that it would be prepared to support a sea transfer of stranded crew members and it was then that the idea of using a cruise ship was born. After much arrangement, 142 sailors from I-Kiribati boarded the 3,125 gross tonnage Reef Endeavor and the cruise ship left Fuji on November 22. The ship is currently sailing north and is expected to reach the capital of Kiribati on November 28.
A cruise ship has been chartered to bring sailors from I-Kiribati home (photo provided by HRAS)
Pastor Matthias Ristau, chaplain at the Deutsche Seemannsmission in Germany, said the trip was a milestone in the sailors’ struggle for repatriation. “After so much waiting time, it is an incredible moment of happiness for all the participants, and in particular for the sailors who are finally bringing home after eight months stuck in Fiji,” he said.
Under the agreement with the Kiribati government, three medics joined the cruise ship and its staff for the trip. All the sailors underwent several COVID-19 tests before the start of the voyage and agreed to a two-week quarantine on the ship when they return home as well as additional tests before being allowed to disembark.
HRAS, however, said the challenges are still unresolved for more seafarers. Some remain stranded abroad, with shipping companies now planning a new charter flight to transfer more of the crew to Fiji, notably Germany and South Korea. Those currently living in Australia, however, are reluctant to leave as they will stop receiving their pay if they make it to Fiji and the crew stranded in Indonesia have the added challenge that the vaccine they received will not be recognized by the Fijian government. HRAS reports that it continues to work with shipping companies and others to find a solution to repatriate the remaining sailors.