A Wallerfield grandmother has been given an exemption to return home after being stuck at sea for over 15 months on a Royal Caribbean Cruises vessel.
"It's an overwhelming feeling," Marcelle Gift told Newsday on Monday, days after she received an e-mail from the Ministry of National Security, which said she is scheduled for a repatriation flight from Miami on Sunday.
"I'm so excited, I am packing already."
Two weeks ago, Newsday reported that Gift left the country to work as a cleaner for Royal Caribbean on a contract that started in December 2019 and expired last October.
Gift first received an exemption in December, but she said she was given a logistically impossible window to travel.
She said after that there were no responses to her or Royal Caribbean's attempts to have the ministry give her a more reasonable opportunity to return home – until the company got the exemption over the weekend and relayed the good news to her.
"First the ministry had contacted my HR manager via e-mail informing him that my application was being looked into," Gift said.
"Then, after that, another message came in, giving me permission to return home, letting us know when the flight will be available."
She is currently docked in St Maarten, where she will take a PCR test before leaving for Miami on Sunday, and then to TT, where she will undergo seven days of mandatory quarantine.
Gift said she had not yet told her children and grandchildren about her exemption because they were hurt and disappointed when it did not materialise on the previous occasions. This time, she wanted to surprise them, but also found it necessary to share the positive news with others stuck outside the country to give them hope.
"I know it will be very emotional (returning home), because my younger son birthday just passed, and he was looking forward for us to spend it together and I was not there.
"The crew members on board who know I am leaving (are) so happy for me. They said I have plenty patience. But I said it is faith and with the help of my family, friends and my colleagues that help me get through. And I could not have done it without God."
Like several other cruise-ship employees interviewed by Newsday in recent months, Gift said she was grateful for her employers' efforts to get her home and to keep her as comfortable as possible until she was able to do so.
She said the media's coverage of citizens' struggles to return was crucial.
"After the Newsday article came out, a lot of people from Tortola, Jamaica, other Caribbean islands, as far as Africa, reached out to me to encourage me."