Thanks to the coordinated efforts of Unión de Trabajadores del Transporte (UTT) ITF affiliate in Uruguay, ITF Inspector in Chile Juan Villalon Jones, and the ITF Latin America Regional Office, authorities in Uruguay have authorised the creation of a humanitarian corridor for the disembarkation of the crew on the Bahamas-flagged cruise ship Greg Mortimer (IMO 9834648) which has spent two months on the high seas with crew infected by Covid-19.
On March 15, the Greg Mortimer left the Port of Ushuaia, Argentina, four days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) decreed Covid-19 a pandemic. A week later, the first symptoms appeared among the passengers, however they were refused disembarkation in Argentina and Chile because the governments had closed their borders and ports. With authorisation from the Uruguayan government, the ship arrived on March 27 at the Port of Montevideo where an operation was carried out to land and repatriate the passengers, however the crew was forced to remain on board despite the spread of the virus on the ship.
Of the 83-crew members on board, 39 seafarers tested positive for Covid-19. Tragically one of them, a Philippine seafarer, died.
On April 20, after hearing about the large number of crew members infected and confined in cabins without appropriate sanitary conditions UTT general secretary Francisco del Gaudio contacted the crew offering the union’s and the ITF’s support.
According to the reports from crew members to UTT, internet connectivity was interrupted to prevent information on the severity of the situation being leaked, including confirmation that two crew members who were in charge of distributing the food had been confirmed positive for the virus, as well as the attempted suicides of some of the crew due to the anxiety and uncertainty on board. The repeated requests for information following distressing messages from the seafarers made to the company by ITF’s Italian affiliate as the union holding the agreement and the ITF were never answered.
In response to pressure from UTT, the Uruguayan government finally announced last Friday, May 8, that the 83 crew members would be allowed to disembark, quarantined and given appropriate medical care, and then repatriated.
Adan Suarez, vice president of UTT pointed out that it was gratifying to see the joy of the crew when they were notified that they were going to be disembarked.
Francisco del Gaudio, UTT general secretary commented: “These weeks have been very difficult for the crew of the Greg Mortimer, however this great achievement must serve as an example to continue fighting together for the seafarers and for all transport workers who are at-risk from the Covid-19.”
Edgar Díaz, ITF acting regional secretary highlighted the tireless effort and great solidarity that UTT supported by the ITF demonstrated to the Greg Mortimer crew and reaffirmed that it is an ITF principle to provide assistance unions, their members and transport workers generally when they are in difficulty and that it is especially important now when the role of transport workers is critical in the fight against and the recovery from Covid-19.