International Cooperation to
Help Countries Cope
Cuba's Timely Assistance to British Passenger Ship
Shortly before dawn on March 18, the British
passenger ship MS Braemar of the Fred. Olsen Cruise
Lines, with over 1,000 passengers and crew aboard, docked in the port of
Mariel, Cuba. Since March 12, the ship had been denied permission to
dock in several of its scheduled ports of call around the Caribbean or
in the U.S. by authorities of those countries, due to the fact that one
of its passengers and four crew members had confirmed cases of
COVID-19, with a further 28 passengers and 27 crew members, including a
doctor, in isolation after displaying symptoms.
The Cuban government arranged for tour buses to
transfer all those on board to Havana's José
Martí international airport, where four chartered British
Airways planes were waiting to fly them back to Britain that evening.
Those without symptoms were flown on three of the planes to Heathrow
airport in London. Those with flu-like symptoms, those who had tested
positive for COVID-19 and their companions were taken aboard a separate
flight to an airbase in England. Those not well enough to travel were
given the opportunity to remain in Cuba for treatment.
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a
statement informing that its decision to receive the MS Braemar
was in response to a March 16 request by the British government. It
said that given the urgency of the situation and the risk to the life
of those who were ill, the Cuban government decided to allow the ship
to dock and to receive all those on board, while strictly following the
protocols established by the World Health Organization and the Cuban
Ministry of Public Health. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in
conclusion, "These are times of solidarity, of understanding health as
a human right, of reinforcing international cooperation to face our
common challenges, values that are inherent in the humanistic practice
of the Revolution and of our people."
Photos and videos
posted on the internet showed passengers rejoicing at being told of
Cuba's decision to assist them, with crew members holding up a banner
reading "Te Quiero Cuba" (I love you, Cuba) as they disembarked the ship.
In a statement, Peter Deer, the managing director
of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, expressed his gratitude to Cuba, saying,
“I would like to extend my sincere thanks on behalf of Fred.
Olsen to the Cuban Authorities, the Port of Mariel and the Cuban people
for their support. Other countries would not allow Braemar to dock once
we had confirmed cases of coronavirus on board. Thanks to their
kindness we are now able to get people home. Your support will not be
forgotten. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."
The British Secretary of State for Foreign and
Commonwealth Affairs, Dominic Raab, also thanked the Cuban government in
parliament on March 18, saying, "I spoke to the Cuban Foreign Minister
twice over the weekend and we are very grateful to the Cuban government
for swiftly enabling this operation and for their close cooperation to
make sure it could be successful."
Writing in the Mexican daily, La Jornada,
of Cuba's humanitarian action in throwing a lifeline to those aboard
the ship, Cuban journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde explains:
"I am very grateful to the Cuban government for agreeing to carry out
"The odyssey began when the British company Fred
Olsen's cruise ship arrived in Cartagena, where a
woman from the U.S. disembarked and was diagnosed shortly afterward
with coronavirus. From that moment on, five Caribbean ports denied
entry to the ship and the families of the cruise passengers turned to
the media to express their fears for the fate of their loved ones and
the possibility that they would be forced to make the long journey back
to Europe, exposed to massive contagion and perhaps death on an
industrial scale before the ship could reach Britain."
Elizalde writes of a passenger who posted videos
and regular reports from the ship using the hashtag #DunkirkSpirit
alluding to the evacuation of 330,000 allied soldiers from the coast of
France in May 1940, at the beginning of World War II, when Hitler
"For us, Dunkirk does not only speak of heroism,
but of humanity. It means that there are solutions in the worst of
circumstances, and this time we will have Cuba to thank for it," the
Elizalde concludes her article, titled "Cuba
Saves," drawing attention to the paradox of ships contracted by Cuba to
import oil and food being harassed by the U.S., while ships with sick
people onboard that nobody wants in their ports, including the U.S.
which refused to let the British ship dock, receive solidarity and
respect in Cuba.
Internationalist solidarity is not an exception
but the rule for Cuba.
Command of the MS Braemar recognizes heroism of
Cuban marine pilot
for helping the ship dock at the Port of Mariel.
This article was published in
Volume 50 Number 9 - March 21, 2020
International Cooperation to
Help Countries Cope: Cuba's Timely Assistance to British Passenger Ship