A MARITIME loophole allowed 600 cruise ship workers from India to fly here and avoid compulsory hotel quarantine.
It was only closed after worried civil servants raised the alarm, amid fears that the Indian Covid variant will delay lockdown ending.
🔵 Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest updates
Passengers stuck on “death ships” last year at the height of the pandemic were stunned at the revelation, with some considering pulling out of trips this month.
Some 600 cruise ship employees travelled from “red-list” India through Heathrow on May 13 and 14 and were not put into immediate ten-day isolation at hotels.
Instead, the arrivals — mostly Indian nationals with some Filipinos — were classed as seafarers.
As such, they were allowed to go to ports, including Southampton, under a rule designed to stop Naval ratings having to quarantine.
The loophole was shut on May 19 after concerns were raised with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps by furious civil servants.
Cruise crew travelling from red-list countries such as India must now quarantine in airport hotels.
'NO CONTROL OF OUR BORDERS'
But Shadow Immigration Minister Bambos Charalambous fumed last night: “It’s scandalous and shocking that such a loophole existed. It could mean we are facing lockdown for longer.
“It just shows the Government hasn’t had a grip on control of our borders. It’s another example of them not fully grasping the problem that we are facing.”
A Whitehall source claimed ministers were unaware of the loophole. They said: “This is unbelievable and a scandal at a time when the Indian variant is running rampant. A lot of ministers and civil servants did not know this loophole existed and are demanding answers.
“It is crazy these workers were allowed to go on to cruise ships, which are perfect breeding grounds for Covid.
“We saw complete chaos last year when people had to quarantine on cruise ships. No one wants a repeat of that.”
It’s scandalous and shocking that such a loophole existed. It could mean we are facing lockdown for longer.
The source went on: “There were moves to close the loophole, which has now happened. But it’s a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
“This was absolutely shambolic and it beggars belief how it was allowed in the first place.”
One cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, left Southampton at 5pm on Friday for a week-long voyage.
It is not known if any of the 600 who arrived from India on May 13 and 14 were on board.
Foster carer Sharon Lane, 59, was one of 140 Brits trapped on the “death ship” Grand Princess off the US coast when the pandemic took hold last March. She blasted: “I’d be absolutely fuming if I got on one of those cruises.
“I’d be horrified to think some of the staff had flown from India and not had to quarantine at the airport. It seems a clear risk to public health.”
Sharon, from Hinckley, Leics, was planning a £1,070, seven-day trip around the British Isles with pals, boarding the MSC Virtuosa on June 19.
But she said: “We were going to get the cruise from Southampton as they’re still our favourite thing to do, but I think we’ll give it a miss now.”
She added: “I’m stunned they’re still even letting people in from India at the moment, let alone to then go and work on a cruise ship. Even with passengers having both jabs, they’ll still be worried. It’ll never end if this carries on.”
MSC welcomes unvaccinated guests, but they must produce a negative test within 72 hours of boarding and show proof on deck.
A source in the cruise liner industry said the employees would still have had to abide by strict Covid protocols.
They told how the workers would have been tested in India and then taken in private-hire minibuses to Southampton — not mixing on public transport. They would then quarantine away from passengers on the boats for ten to 14 days.
A spokesman for the Cruise Lines International Association trade body said: “Our measures go beyond those of any other travel or tourism sector currently operating, including for all crew members who travel to the UK.
“These measures include pre-departure tests in the crew member’s country of origin, and a further test prior to them joining the ship. Once on board, all crew are quarantined and tested again before the end of this period.
“Testing and comprehensive screening is then carried out at regular intervals.”
A Department of Transport source admitted the loophole had allowed in up to 600 cruise ship workers from India. But they insisted it was closed within days of it being pointed out to the Cabinet Office.
The Department of Transport confirmed at the time of the May 13 and 14 flights “all seafarers, including cruise workers, were exempt from ‘red list’ travel bans by law”.
It added: “In light of increasing concerns surrounding emerging variants, this exemption was changed on May 19 requiring all cruise crew from red-list countries to isolate in Managed Quarantine Hotels.”
Royal Caribbean has been approached for comment.
Source: Read Full Article