Waking up to the warm Caribbean sun glistening on the blue waters off Chacachacare Island is ideally a picture of perfection, but for Swedish citizen Gregory De Freitas, it’s been his only image for the past 16 days.
The Coast Guard detained the sailor and his son, who are also T&T citizens, for breaching T&T’s borders after Government shut the door to nationals and non-nationals alike on March 22.
The men returned from St Lucia aboard the SY Anna just three hours late, unaware of the border restrictions that were implemented less than 48 hours before.
They long for relaxing showers, the comfort of fresh clothes and the freedom to stretch their legs on land.
Gregory said the Coast Guard’s treatment is good. Officers call them twice daily and allow family members to bring food and other supplies. However, there is the constant worry about their anchorage. With Chacachacare being on the windward side of the islands, the dragging anchor threatens to damage their yacht and endanger their lives.
A mandatory quarantine period of 14 days for anyone who entered T&T since the government implemented COVID-19 travel measures ended on Monday. When they asked to leave, coastguardsmen informed that the Minister of National Security has to grant an exemption.
“I even asked them if we could come onshore to exercise, but they said we couldn’t,” De Freitas said.
With a computer and internet access, Gregory reached out to Minister of National Security Stuart Young. But by yesterday evening, there was no response and the De Freitas men were still confined to the SY Anna.
Gregory told Guardian Media that they’ve complied with all instructions, which included recording their temperature for the past ten days. In good health, he told Young that he was cognisant of the COVID-19 crisis and gave assurances to do everything possible to avoid contracting the virus.
He said they would adhere to social distancing rules and the SY Anna would be moored at the T&T Sailing Association (TTSA) in Chaguaramas where he and his son will stay until the borders are reopened. They hope to return to Sweden soon.
“Should we be granted entry then, of course, we shall do everything in our power to stay virus-free and follow the rules of self-isolation onboard Anna. Should there be a need to test for the virus, then that we would do so willingly. We have been asked, a few days ago, to monitor our temperatures and this we have done and kept a record. At the TTSA we shall, of course, live onboard Anna and follow the rules of social distancing set up by the authorities.”
Gregory, his two adult sons and a friend left Chaguaramas on March 7 for Antigua; five days before Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced that T&T had its first confirmed case of the COVID-19. At that time, the inability of Guyana to declare the winner of its general elections was the biggest news. On reaching St Vincent and the Grenadines, they met a closed harbour. They went to St Lucia around March 18 where entry which also had restrictions.
In his letter to Young, he said “On being made aware that your government had decided to stop entries by non-nationals into Trinidad, I made preparations to immediately return to Trinidad from where I had two weeks earlier, started on a sailing trip up the islands. At that time, I was in St Vincent and there I cleared off two of my crew; non-nationals, who flew out of St Vincent in the following days. Onboard my sailing boat, SY Anna, are myself and my son, both citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. We have dual citizenship, Sweden and Trinidad and Tobago. Our goal was to return to SY Anna´s homeport at the Trinidad & Tobago Sailing Association (TTSA) in Chaguaramas. My yacht is registered in Sweden but the home port is Port-of-Spain.
“At the time of me turning around, I had visited only Grenada and St Vincent, neither of which had any restrictions concerning the outbreak of COVID-19. I was aware of the pandemic and practised a constant awareness of the danger and thus had minimal contact with the local inhabitants and other “yachties.”
We have had no human contact since leaving Bequia in St Vincent on Saturday 21 March at 10 am.”
There are two other vessels anchored off Chacachacare, carrying German and Czech flags. De Freitas said while there no communication with them, he was concerned whether they were getting supplies.
Guardian Media reached out to Young for a comment but there was no response.