Coronavirus | 131 Indians on a cruise to nowhere amid scare: 'Help us return to India'

Updated: Mar 17, 2020, 09:23 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

With no place ready to accept them amid Corona scare, and a plan to airlift them failing, a cruiseliner's all-Indian crew including workers from Vasai, Goa, Delhi, and Haryana - send an SOS to the government

The Indian crew members of the Grand Princess in the the video sent by Vasai resident Adler Rodricks
The Indian crew members of the Grand Princess in the the video sent by Vasai resident Adler Rodricks

About 131 Indian crew stuck Onboard The Grand Princess cruise liner at Oakland Port in California has sent an SOS video to the Ministry of External Affairs requesting to help them return safely to India. While the plan to bring them back home in a special charter plane got cancelled, they are now scared of being taken to an isolated location ofF the San Francisco Bay to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine.

A 30-year-old digital communication manager from Vasai, Adler Rodricks is among the 131 Indian crew stranded in The Grand Princess for the last two weeks. The passengers and crew onboard the ship were exposed to the Coronavirus after a US national travelling on the ship tested positive and died days later. Soon after 21 others had tested positive for the virus and 50 others were showing symptoms. While most of the people who were on the ship have been evacuated, only one passenger and the Indian crew remains.

File photo of the liner, which can accommodate 3,500
File photo of the liner, which can accommodate 3,500

With no help coming their way, on Monday afternoon (Indian time), the crew sent a distress SOS video to External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, the shipping community and their families in India, seeking help.

Confirming the same, Bianca Rodricks, 28, wife of Adler, said, "I received the video on Monday afternoon and since then the entire family is worried. Soon after I spoke to Adler and he said that they had no option but to send this video."

Adler Rodricks
Adler Rodricks

Bianca said that Adler was to return to India in the first week of April, when his contract would get over. He had left India on October 14, 2019 and joined M/s Carnival Corporation, which has its headquarters in California. He boarded the cruise ship on October 16 and joined duty.

"The SOS video has been sent so that help reaches them within 24 hours, failing which, they will be at higher risk of getting infected.

The Grand Princess at the Oakland Port in California
The Grand Princess at the Oakland Port in California

"The Grand Princess will leave the Oakland Port and go to an isolated location off San Francisco Bay. The ship will then be disinfected only after the crew undergoes a 14-day self quarantine when they will have to stay inside their cabins," said Bianca. She recalled, "During my last conversation with Adler, before he sent the video SOS, he told me that the entire crew would return soon as a special charter plane had been arranged by the US authorities.

"They were supposed to be taken to Delhi for a 14-day self-quarantine before returning home. He even said that none of them were sick and the doctor on the cruise was only examining them for regular flu and cold. However, they were not sure whether anybody was carrying the virus."

But then Adler informed her that soon after all the 131 crew disembarked the ship, they were divided into three groups and put into three buses to be taken to San Francisco airport. However, after sitting inside the bus for nearly six hours, they were told that their passports and other papers would be given to them at the airport and that a charter plane was also ready.

But when the first bus reached the exit area, they were informed that they could not board the plane until and unless a mandatory health check up report was sent to India.

"They are all at high risk at this moment, as none of them know whether they have been infected. Also, the self-quarantine will happen once the ship leaves Oakland port and it will be difficult to reach them in the next 14 days. Hence, they have requested for assistance from the Indian government," she added.

In his official email to MEA and the shipping ministry, advocate Godfrey Pimenta, who is related to the family, confirmed stating, "I have already written to the ministry appraising them about the SOS video and subsequent call from Adler. But till now I haven't got any response from them. The Indian embassies in foreign countries should keep a helpline number to assist the Indians abroad, as the Embassy officials are usually not reachable after their office hours.

The Government of India should immediately provide all required assistance to the people in distress."

MEA speaks
"We have not got any update about the evacuation of the Indian crew on board The Grand Princess yet. However, we can surely say that the Indian Embassy and the Indian Consulate in America are in touch with the local US authorities and they have chalked out a plan. We should get clarity on the issue by Tuesday.

"The special COVID-19 team is working round-the-clock and providing all required assistance to Indians stuck in affected countries," said an MEA official requesting
anonymity.

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