There is an oil exploration vessel in the Gulf of Mexico carrying about 150 souls who, as the global pandemic tumbles towards an unknown end, continue to work to find a commodity that is fast becoming worthless.
Anchored to the seabed far from land, the Maersk Valiant drill ship is ‘home’ to people from all over the world.
Eleven of them are men from Trinidad and Tobago.
In the ultimate irony, the ship is one of the safest places on the planet to be right now.
That’s because, as of Saturday, almost every country has been afflicted by the COVID-19 coronavirus, with about 1.2 million victims, and more than 63,000 deaths.
In Mexico, the cases are also increasing, with 60 dead, and more than 1,500 cases being treated.
The drill ship is COVID-free.
But the Trinidadian workers want to come home, by any means necessary, and under any conditions imposed. However, they don’t even know for sure if the Government is aware of their existence.
They are making an appeal for help.
The Sunday Express has been in contact with a representative for the men, all of whom were hired by Maersk though JSL International, a Texas-based company with offices in several countries including Trinidad. Maersk got the job from Spanish oil firm Repsol.
The Sunday Express on Thursday emailed JSL International’s CEO Javid Ramcharitar and its Chief Operating Officer L Vaughn Ramcharitar, asking for information on the status on the workers. There was no immediate reply.
The Express was told that before the Carnival in February, the men travelled from Piarco to Panama to Mexico, and helicoptered out to the ship off the port city of Veracruz.
At that time, the virus was ravaging the Wuhan Province of China but considered largely an Asian sub-continent problem.
By then, thermal scanners were being used at the ports and Cabinet had imposed a travel restriction on persons who had been in China for 14 days prior to their arrival in Trinidad and Tobago, and nationals and residents who had been in China for 14 days were to be quarantined and observed.
It was amid this unease by epidemiologists that the virus had broken out of Asia, the drill ship workers went out into the gulf.
On March 11, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 outbreak was a global pandemic, and the borders closed as Trinidad and Tobago began seeing imported cases that led to deaths.
According to a source, the men aboard the Maersk Valiant are in no different a situation than the 32 nationals, some of them energy workers, who are also stranded in Suriname because of the border closure.
Attorneys for these nationals say they are willing to work with the Government to temporarily re-opened the border to have their clients return home, and the nationals are were willing to be tested for the COVID-19 virus as the first step of having them reunited with the families in T&T.
The families of the men aboard the Maersk Valiant are willing to do the same, the Sunday Express was told.
The source said the men have taken note of National Security Minister Stuart Young’s statement on Friday regarding the Trinidadians who tried to make it home before the border closure but ended up having to be taken in by Barbados.
The refusal to allow nationals to return to Trinidad appears to have the popular support of the populations fearful of the virus’s spread.
Young has since said that testing kits were sent to Barbados for the 35 Trinis quarantined there.
He said once the group complete the 14 days quarantine, they will be tested, and once negative, he would give consideration for their return.
“The medical team will advise whether they will be put into state quarantine or not,” he said.
Trinidad and Tobago’s border remains open to flights allowed in and out by Young, the most recent being a Toronto, Canada-bound flight that landed at Piarco on Saturday.
And the Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has said that a Caribbean Airlines flight would be making the round trip to Cuba shortly to bring in Intensive Care nurses to help treatment COVID-19 patients in Trinidad.
The Sunday Express was told that while the ship remained free of the virus, the Trinidadians considered it possible to get home, and remain in quarantine. But should someone fall ill from COVID-19, all hope would be lost of returning to loved ones anytime soon.
On Saturday afternoon, the Express messaged Minister Young the following note. There was no immediate reply.
We have been told that there are 11 Trinidadian nationals who are aboard a drillship called the Maersk Valiant, located in the Gulf of Mexico. They have been there since mid February. They are working with a company called Maersk, and hired through a multinational company called JSL International with offices in Port of Spain and other countries. Our nationals are uncertain whether the Government of T&T is aware of their presence and predicament. We are being told that while they are safe aboard the vessel, all would like to find their way home to families, and are willing to go into quarantine on their return. We are seeking a comment on whether the GORTT or your ministry is aware of this case, and what is the Government’s position on this matter of Trinidadians stranded outside the country as a result of the border closure.