For the past five months, Kernel Nelson has lived his life on a cruise ship, unaware when he will touch land again.
The 35-year-old Trinidad and Tobago national is currently off the coast of Civitavecchia, a city just north of Italy’s capital Rome.
In a world that was besieged by the COVID-19 pandemic, it would appear the ideal vacation.
For him, it’s been like prison.
“I am not going to lie to tell you, I lie down on the ground crying, sometimes I may want to jump over the (barrier) you know just feel escape. To feel human,” he told Guardian Media in an interview on Thursday.
“The thing is it really not easy, I have touch land since, well boy, since March. You know from since March I haven’t touch land and this is the fifth month right now in terms of me being locked down this is the fifth month. And it’s hard. It’s really, really hard.”
Nelson left home last September to work aboard a cruise liner. When news of the COVID-19 outbreak broke he was in Asia. An attempt was made to get him back to Trinidad before the borders were closed but various international regulations stood in his way.
“I was due to return home in April, like the first week in April, the 7th or the 8th. But unfortunately, due to lockdown I couldn’t return home. The company tried to send me home early, that was in March. Before the borders were closed because they were unsuccessful because we were coming from Asia and when we come from Asia we stopped in Dubai,” he explained, adding “that is when I was supposed to leave to go home but unfortunately, I couldn’t go home because my passport was due to expire. And in Dubai if your passport is not valid for more than six months you cannot leave or even entire the country. So the lockdown happened.”
Since then he has been stuck in a cruise ship off the coast of European countries, it is here where his surroundings more associated with luxury and relaxation instead became a site extended involuntary confinement instead.
“I arrived in Geneva, that was the second to last week in March. We were locked down for two months. As in nobody couldn’t come out our cabins for two months. Everybody was transferred from crew cabins to guest cabins. And we couldn’t come out our cabins for two months. Nobody couldn’t come. Food was being delivered but in terms of stepping out, we couldn’t step out at all. It was basically like prison.”
Over time, he was transferred to another ship, the one which now overlooks the Italian coast as some of his crewmates were able to make arrangements to return home. He is currently the only Caribbean national still on the ship.
“So in June, I wrote a repatriation letter to travel exemptions. I only got and electronic email and no response. I forward them a couple of times. No response. I was keeping in touch with the Trinidad and Tobago high commission of the UK. And they would answer me like off and on because I had to get my passport renewed,” he said after getting wind of the Trinidad and Tobago nationals finally being allowed to re-enter.
“The second week in June I had to transfer from the ship that I was on to another ship here with some of the crew members to meet other crew members we stayed here until the last week of July where I am now currently in Civitavecchia, which is north of Rome and I haven’t got any response from the Ministry or anything like that. The Ministry is not hearing or answering me . The only email I got was, I think that was an electronic (auto-response) email because they are telling me my application receipt is still being processed and they will get back to me as soon as possible. So I had to write back and ask how long is that gonna take now?”
Nelson has been trying to get in a position where he can return home pending the renewal of his passport, but to do that he needs the government to contact him so his company will fly him where he needs to be. Nelson has not been paid since April.
“I was planning to at least get a flight from Barbados or St Lucia to Trinidad. Which means I would have pay for that myself. I have a friend who would have loaned me money who would have booked that flight for me,” he said, “But I send my application and stuff to Caribbean Airlines and they haven’t gotten to me as yet. If I had got confirmation from that would have take that to my company and they had to do was book a flight from here to London, London to Barbados or St Lucia one of the two.”
Nelson acknowledges that the situation may change after the election on Monday, but he is favouring neither side and is simply hopeful that whoever is in charge improves their communicating with nationals stuck outside during the pandemic.
“All I just want is that I can get approved but not only me but other Trinidadians and Tobagonians out here. I know that we cannot all come in at once but at least give us a schedule as to what is going on. The thing is we are feeling abandoned out here,” he said.