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Indonesia Repatriating Citizens Who Worked on Coronavirus-Stricken Cruise Ships

A photographer takes pictures near the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, anchored at a port in Yokohama, Japan, Feb. 21, 2020.
A photographer takes pictures near the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, anchored at a port in Yokohama, Japan, Feb. 21, 2020.

Crews from the Diamond Princess and the World Dream will be quarantined on the uninhabited island of Sebaru Kecil as authorities seek to keep the island nation free of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The Indonesian government announced that it plans to repatriate 68 of its citizens who are crew members aboard the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, at the center of Japan’s coronavirus outbreak.

The crew members will return home by air Sunday and be quarantined on Sebaru Kecil, an uninhabited island in Thousand Islands, near Jakarta, where 188 crew members from the World Dream have been since Friday. The Indonesian National Military will oversee travel from Japan.

"It is a place we consider safe as the island is not inhabited and the facilities are good and ready to use,” Muhadjir Effendy, Indonesia’s Coordinating Human Development and Culture minister, said earlier in the week.

The crews will be in separate buildings and quarantine zones on the island, Indonesian Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said. The government evacuated the Indonesian World Dream crew members before those on the Diamond Princess because the World Dream was closer to the quarantine site not far from Bintan Island.

Wayan Sudiartha, a 24-year-old Diamond Princess crew member, has been stuck aboard the ship since Feb. 5. Yan Artha, as he likes to be called, said that the 200 Indonesian crew members have been worried because nine Indonesian crew members have tested positive for COVID-19. They are being treated at a hospital in Japan.

"We are definitely worried, because we were on the same part of the ship," Yan Artha, who continues to work up to 10 hours a day, said.

The Diamond Princess was carrying 3,700 passengers and crew from 56 countries and regions when it arrived in Yokohama in early February. More than 700 passengers and crew members of the ship have been infected. Six Diamond Princess passengers have died since people on board learned of the outbreak Feb. 3. The ship entered quarantine Feb. 4.

Cruise ships are prone to the spread of infectious diseases because shipboard life places the passengers in close contact. For the crew, living and working conditions are even closer.

Dewa Susila, Bali branch chairperson of the Indonesian Seafarers Association, an internationally affiliated union, said there were 15 to 24 crew members from Bali working on the Diamond Princess, and many of their families in Bali did not know the health status of their relatives.

Susila told VOA Indonesian that it was unclear what kind of legal protections may assist the crew members. Many of them opt for a working life at sea because it pays better than tourism and hospitality jobs on land.

Indonesia has managed the evacuation process deliberately in part because the government has yet to report a confirmed coronavirus case.

Terawan, a military doctor, said Indonesia based its evacuation decisions on medical, rather than emotional, considerations. Indonesia will implement the World Health Organization procedures for evacuation rather than put the nation at risk, Terawan said, adding, “We are careful.”