A returning national from the Carnival Fantasy Cruise Ship proudly displays a natinal flag while leaving the Port of Port-of-Spain to be taken to the National Racquet Centre in Tacarigua yesterday.

Jesse Ramdeo

Flashing smiles filled their faces so much that they were imprinted in the masks worn by all 29 Trinidad and Tobago nationals who finally touched home soil at the Port of Port-of-Spain yesterday, after disembarking the Carnival Fantasy cruise ship.

Just after 3 pm, a shuttle vessel was seen making its way to the cruise ship docked in waters off the Gulf of Paria. Nearly an hour later, it was observed making its way back to the Cruise Ship Complex where the repatriated nationals were allowed their first footing on home soil in months.

After being brought to land in batches, all 29 nationals, fully outfitted in hazmat suits, were quickly loaded onto a PTSC bus and another unmarked bus before being whisked away to the National Racquet Centre in Tacarigua, where they will undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine.

The nationals were unable to contain their jubilation as they left the venue, waving and showing two thumbs up to members of the media covering their arrival. One individual was even seen draping a T&T flag outside one of the buses.

Speaking to Guardian Media on the condition of anonymity hours later, one of the repatriated nationals said they felt great to be back home but were finding it difficult to adjust to the conditions at the step-down facility.

“We’re all happy to be home but still feel stressed about having to do quarantine for two more weeks after doing it for over two months,” she said.

According to the crew member, Government could have moved with more alacrity in facilitating the return of themselves and many others stuck outside T&T’s borders.

“We were the last Caribbean country to be repatriated by the company. The Government did not want to cooperate well with the company, we were outside the border since May 31st as they denied us entry the day we arrived. We had to beg to come home.”

The woman added that quarantine conditions at the Racquet Centre were also different from that onboard the Carnival Fantasy. She explained that while each person was made to stay in separate rooms as a means of enforcing physical distancing on the ship, at the centre people were occupying “cubicles and shared bathrooms.”

Now that the nationals are inching closer to being with their loved ones, some have already set their sights on reacquainting their taste buds with some local favourites.

“Everything, KFC, Royal Castle, … we were now joking about it as we can have packages delivered to us,” she said.

The 29 nationals were among hundreds of cruise ship workers who have been clamouring for Government’s intervention to return home after they became stranded in countries where they operate when T&T shut its borders in March.

There was very little information about the arrival of the vessel into T&T’s waters and the presence of nationals onboard. National Security Minister Stuart Young told Guardian Media he granted an exemption to the vessel for bunkering at Pointe-a-Pierre. The vessel left Miami on May 17 and made several stops in the Caribbean to drop off passengers in The Bahamas and Haiti before arriving in T&T’s waters.

Another 345 T&T nationals aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas are awaiting official communication on when they will be allowed to return home. Official communication has been sent to the cruise line’s executives by Young requesting that the vessel be used as a quarantine facility when they arrive in T&T shores. Both parties are currently in communication on the issue. Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram has already denied an informal request for the quarantine period to begin before the vessel arrives in local waters.

Several of the crew members aboard the vessel have lamented the status of their mental, emotional and physical health while stuck out at sea, adding that they have since felt a sense of abandonment by the Government.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health yesterday clarified that it will continue to foot the bill for citizens placed in quarantine. However, it noted that it is currently exploring “the possibility of permitting a very limited number of persons to return and cover for themselves, the costs of being quarantined under state supervision.”

“The category that it is envisaged that may be accommodated under this rubric, are workers whose jobs outside of Trinidad and Tobago were performed, and completed, and their employers are willing to pay for their return and the costs of accommodation. The number of those that may be facilitated in this category would still be limited by the number of suitable available accommodations. Also, all returning nationals are to abide by the national quarantine policy as directed by the Chief Medical Officer.”