COVID-19 impact: 'Other crew being taken home, what is India doing?', ask Indians stranded on cruise liner

Updated: Apr 10, 2020, 09:04 IST | Diwakar Sharma, Faizan Khan | Mumbai

Their captain and other colleagues infected, 158 crew members stuck aboard cruise docked near Italian port, plead to be brought back

Crew members have been quarantined onboard the Costa Victoria cruise
Crew members have been quarantined onboard the Costa Victoria cruise

Over 150 crew members of the Costa Victoria cruise stuck 60 km off the Civitavecchia port in Rome, Italy since March 22 have appealed that they be brought back to India. Those infected include the ship's captain and some of the crew. They have been admitted to a hospital in Rome.

"There are 158 Indian crew members onboard Costa Victoria. On March 22, the captain announced that a passenger has tested positive for COVID-19. We were at sea and did not know which port we would be going to next," a crew member told mid-day via WhatsApp.

Another crew member, a resident of Mahim, said, "We have been asked to stay in our cabins. We are given WhatsApp access. Food is being delivered to our cabins. The company is doing its best. Recently, two more people contracted the virus and were isolated. Crew members from the Philippines and Indonesia have been told that they will be sent home as soon as they have flights available. But there is no news about Indians."

"We will go into quarantine once we are back. If things get worse and we have to visit a hospital here, I don't think it would be safe as the situation in Italy is dangerous. People belonging to other nationalities wouldn't get first preference. Hence, we request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring us back home," said the crew member.
The sister of a crew member, Rochelle Thomas, has written seven emails to the government of India and the Indian Embassy in Rome, but to no avail. "They have been passing the buck citing the lockdown," said Thomas. "I made calls to the control room of the Ministry of External Affairs and the officer told me that there are 30 million Indians stranded across the globe. Somehow, I convinced him to talk to me on phone. He suggested I contact the embassy," she added.

In response to her mail, the Indian Embassy too reiterated the lockdown and added, "We have taken up the matter with the concerned ship company. We have also taken up the matter with Government of India and will let you know the outcome."

Thomas added, "The increasing number of infections threatens the crew and my brother. All other countries have sent charter flights for their people, why is the Indian government taking so long to get our people back home safe?" She requested the Indian government to arrange a charter flight for the stranded crew.

In response to an email, Costa Cruises told mid-day that it is trying to repatriate the Indian crew. "Several attempts made with different solutions have not had a positive outcome with the Indian authorities," the company's statement read. "Unfortunately, external factors are making the whole organisation/repatriation operation much more difficult and complex to sort out."

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