At least 400 Indians, all of them crew members of cruise ships, are stuck off the Miami coast in the US since mid-March, unable to get back home.
The crew members, their relatives and even a former chief minister of Goa have written, either to the Prime Minister's Office or Ministry of External Affairs. But they may have to wait until the 21-day lockdown enforced from March 24 is lifted, to return home.
"Due to the ship being stuck in the middle of the seas for so many days, the crew members are getting frustrated," said Teena Menezes, in her mail to the Ministry of External Affairs.
Her husband, Vivian Menezes, is part of the crew of a cruise ship that is stranded about three miles away from the Miami Beach. The ship is owned by MSC Cruises, which is registered in Switzerland.
"There have been incidents where three of the crew members tried committing suicide," Menezes added in the letter.
Moneycontrol has seen a copy of the letter.
Talking to Moneycontrol, Menezes said only Indian crew members are now left in the ship. "All the others have been evacuated by the governments of their respective countries," she said.
Menezes added that four ships belonging to MSC Cruises are stuck off the Miami coast. Newspaper reports from the US point out many more cruise ships that are also stranded in the seas. "In total, there could be about 1,000 Indians who are unable to get out," she said.
Moneycontrol has written to MSC Cruises and is awaiting a reply. The story will be updated once the company responds.
Its spokesperson told Miami Herald that with the airports shutting down and many countries closing borders, it was becoming a 'challenge' to evacuate the crew. "Despite our biggest efforts, often at the highest possible level within the relevant governments, we still have found no solution for a certain number of nationalities to travel back to their home countries,” the spokesperson told the paper in this March 29 report.
Vivian, who has been working with MSC Cruises for six years, was booked to fly back home on March 17. "He was booked on a Turkish Airlines flight to Delhi, via Istanbul. But the flight didn't take off and Vivian was forced to go back to the cruise ship," she said.
At a risk
All the cruise liners operating in the American waters had suspended service on March 13, in a joint call to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The US has now reported the highest number of those infected with the virus, globally. Nearly 2 lakh people have been infected and over 4,000 have lost lives.
The decision to suspend services left about 15 cruise ships, including four of MSC Cruises, stranded in the sea. While all the guests were evacuated, it was not the same for the crew.
To make matters worse, reports now say that crew in some of the ships have been tested positive for the virus. It is not known if any of the Indians have been infected.
Menezes said her husband and the rest of the crew of MSC Cruises, are safe.
The official line
Responding to Menezes mail, a senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs said that "there is no information regarding evacuation of Indian citizens," and advised the crew to be in touch with the local Indian embassy.
Vivian, along with the rest of the crew, contacted the Indian embassy in Washington DC and were said that help can only come after April 14, when the lockdown in India is lifted.
Request for help has also come from Churchill Alemao, the former Goa chief minister, who wrote to the Prime Minister's Office on March 29, asking for intervention.
"Sir, please help all our Indians seafarers who are anxiously waiting for the Govt of India to intervene and come to their rescue," he says in the mail.
Menezes is worried that the lockdown could continue beyond April 14. "The government has done so much to evacuate Indians from other parts of the world. Even foreigners from India have been taken back to their countries. We hope that there is help for the crew too."