Fourteen months and still at sea

Marcelle Gift  -
STUCK ON SHIP: Marcelle Gift -

A WALLERFIELD grandmother who has been on a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship for over a year is begging the government to give her not just an exemption, but also a reasonable opportunity to return home.

Marcelle Gift, 49, left the country to work as a cleaner for Royal Caribbean on a contract which started in December 2019 – before covid19 was declared a global pandemic – and ended last October.

Gift, who is on the vessel off Tortola, British Virgin Islands, told Newsday by phone on Thursday that she was given an exemption in December, but the window for her to arrange to get back to TT was too short.

She said, "The government, at one time, give me an exemption to come on December 8, but because we was in St Kitts' port and the restrictions was difficult, no one was able to go on land."

She said she would have had to get from St Kitts to Miami the next day to catch a flight to TT, but was unable to do so in time.

Gift and the cruise line tried to explain the circumstances in an e-mail to the airline and the TT government, asking for the exemption to be extended.

"There was one other time we got through on the phone to the Ministry of (National) Security, and the person on the line was very rude and did not want to hear anything from us," she said. "We had sent the exemption (request) to return, with no response.

"My family at home even tried calling, but the (ministry) refuse to answer.

"Every time (I tried to) inform the ministry what's happening, they never get back to us.

"I am very frustrated and want to come home. My family is very worried about me. I don't know what else to do. You see how long I am away from them. It's very heartbreaking."

Gift reapplied when the new procedure for online applications was introduced last month and was given a reference number, but she said she was greeted with a message saying only that the application is pending.

Newsday reported last year on a number of cruise-ship employees trying to come home, and like most of them, Gift said the company, Royal Caribbean International, has been accommodating, doing "everything possible" to help TT nationals on its vessels return home.

She is not required to pay for lodging or meals.

"The company even tried a couple of times (to reach the ministry) through e-mail and phone," Gift said. "They didn't get any reply for the e-mail, through they got through twice on the phone. But it was transferring to one person to another, then to another person, and finally they got a reply saying to ask her to wait, her turn will come.

"The company representative tried to explain my situation, but the government is not ready to talk further. They very rudely handled the phone, saying, 'We get these calls every day and everybody wants to come home.'"

Gift has two sons and a grandchild and says she is a major financial provider for her family.

"Health-wise, I'm perfectly okay. Our company takes care of our health. I have done my PCR test (for covid19) a couple of times just within the past few months since it is a requirement from our company and the local authorities."

She and her family, however, are more concerned about her mental health and well-being, since she has been at sea and away from her family for far longer than any of them initially expected.


"Fourteen months and still at sea"

More in this section