Trinidadians stranded in St Vincent are expected to be repatriated with a ride home aboard one of two vessels taking relief supplies there.
About 50 members of the Coast Guard, Air Guard and T&T Regiment boarded the Galleons Passage vessel at 5.30 a.m. yesterday en route to St Vincent. Soldiers are expected to provide assistance to the island over a two-week period.
The vessel’s return to Trinidad and Tobago is designated as the first of two repatriating vessels for Trinidadians trapped on the island.
It is uncertain how many Trinidadians are in St Vincent and want to come home but the Express is aware of at least three who are desperate to get off the island where the La Soufriere Volcano has been erupting since last Friday.
Speaking prior to the boat’s departure from Trinidad at the Port of Spain port yesterday morning, Minister of National Security Stuart Young said nationals who have been in touch with the ministry will be repatriated and placed into quarantine.
“We will be sending another vessel up within the next 48 hours with more relief items...Tomorrow we will bring back our nationals who have been in contact with us and so others who we are going to take care of in Trinidad and Tobago and will go straight into quarantine and be tested on arrival as we continue to deal with this pandemic,” he said.
News of repatriation has come as a relief to 21-year-old Jael James, who has been stranded on the island for more than one year since the Covid-19 pandemic began,
James, who contacted the Express last Thursday hours after the volcano’s first explosive eruption, said a one-year-long stay away from her family and home had been a source of anxiety and stress throughout the past months.
“I really want to come home. There is a lot happening here and it has been so long all I want to do is be reunited with my family. To be honest on the south of the island there is not much going on in comparison to the rest of the island but it is very stressful because you don’t know what will happen,” she said.
At least five exemption requests were sent to the ministry throughout 2020, accompanied by a letter penned to Young which she said went unnoticed. As her temporary residence with relatives in Clare Valley, 20 miles away from the volcano and outside of the established “red-zone” was soon coated in ash, she pleaded for a way to return home.
Contacted for a response, Young told the Express last week he would look into all applications from St Vincent immediately. James’s exemption was then granted. She told the Express she is awaiting instruction from the ministry on boarding a repatriating vessel.
Following the publication of James’s story, at least two Trinidadians have contacted the Express to relay similar circumstances. To one anonymous citizen, news of repatriation of her elderly mother came in the late hours of Monday evening. Stranded since March 2020, she said her mother had previously made at least six attempts to receive an exemption to no avail.
“My mother has been in St Vincent since March 2020. She went for three weeks’ vacation. We have made at least a half dozen attempts for travel exemption and only got an automated response. She has endured financial and health challenges as well. My mother is 69 years old and we are desperate for her to leave St Vincent and return to Trinidad and Tobago after 13 months stranded.
“I have tried contacting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Caricom, as well as the Ministry of National Security this morning again. We have been patient for 13 months and now with this volcanic eruption our patience is running weary,” she wrote.
On Tuesday, hours before the Galleons Passage set sail, she said she was informed that her mother’s name had been included in the ministry’s repatriating effort.
Tobago fishermen Joseph Ramkissoon told the Express he has been trying to make his way home since January after being lost at sea. Housed in a funeral home in St Vincent is the body of expedition partner Shaheeda Mohammed, who passed away in this period.
“So, I am here in St Vincent and the Grenadines trying to seek help to get back home with my boat and engine, with myself and the body that I have here that is in a funeral home,” he said.
Having been contacted by the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom affairs, he said he has not since been informed of his place in the repatriating efforts,
“So, I don’t know what form of assistance. The Immigration called me, Foreign Affairs called me twice to see what they could do. So, I don’t know. Nobody ever calls me back to tell me what is taking place because I’m not in a financial state,” he said.
The ministry later told the Express the fisherman’s information has been forwarded to the Ministry of National Security.
“The fisherman’s information has been passed on to the Ministry of National Security for consideration re the ongoing programme to bring home nationals affected by La Soufriere,” the ministry said.
During his address yesterday, Young praised the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force for its efforts which he called “nothing short of remarkable”. Young added that donations of water, food items and supplies were being carried on board the vessel. Another vessel with more supplies, he said, would be sent within the next 48 hours.
“The people of Trinidad and Tobago have donated significant amounts of water. We are also trying to reach some marine vessels and water tankers to take water up to St Vincent. I believe the Galleons Passage has a number of water trucks to assist in that, we have food supplies. Yesterday when I toured the vessel I saw mattresses, We have a number of other items to take to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said.