KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Wednesday October 29, 2014, CMC – St. Vincent and the Grenadines earlier this month denied an oil tanker entry into its territorial waters after being informed that two crewmembers were exhibiting symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has said.
Gonsalves told Parliament that on October 14, he had received a call from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security, Godfred Pompey, indicating that the oil tanker, the Noble Spirit, had also been denied entry into Jamaica because two Pilipino nationals, who boarded the tanker at Houston, Texas on October 10, had high fever and vomiting.
Health authorities warn that high fever and vomiting are among the symptoms of the Ebola virus which has killed nearly 5,000 people in West Africa. There is no known cure.
Gonsalves who is also Minister of National Security, said the tanker was scheduled to call at the port here at 11.p.m. (local time) on October 14, and that he had instructed the Coastguard, the Signal Station and all the relevant agencies that the vessel would not be permitted to enter St. Vincent and the Grenadines territorial waters.
“It turns out that when it came down from St. Lucia, we allowed it innocent passage, it changed its course and went to Barbados, and was not allowed to land in Barbados.”
Gonsalves told lawmakers that he didn’t consider it “necessary and desirable to talk to the people about that — certainly not at that time.”
He said that from the outside the waters of Barbados, the vessel went to Equatorial Guinea.
“Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, you see the potential for harm. It (Ebola virus) would be on any vessel, which comes in at any place in our archipelago of islands.
“So, I can’t start to talk about complete readiness until I have that sorted out in every respect. I am at a particular level of readiness, but not as yet at a level which I could say we are fully prepared; I can’t say that. No place in the region, and the great United States of America, it is for you to judge, not me, with all their resources, as to whether they were prepared.”
Gonsalves said he was informed by the communication department of the Office of the Prime Minister that because he told the ALBA Ebola summit in Cuba last week that St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the rest of the Caribbean were unprepared for Ebola, it has been taken “as something that we are not doing anything.
“But we are doing far more than other countries in the region, certainly in the OECS. That is why what we have done, the OECS conference recently has adopted what we have done as the template in going forward with Ebola,” Gonsalves said.
“But, Mr. Speaker, if I go to a conference, an ALBA conference on Ebola, am I going to go there with any false pride and say ‘We have been doing remarkably well, we don’t need any assistance, we can handle things on our own’?
“Well, I would be a complete and utter fool and I would also be dishonest,” Gonsalves said, noting that the island has 25 points of entry, which have to be monitored.
“And the point I was making at the ALBA conference is that we are an archipelagic state. We have in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, here in the Caribbean, a greater problem than any country here in CARICOM save and except the Bahamas. They have more islands on which people are inhabited than we have.”
Gonsalves also told Parliament that in his presentation to the Ebola summit, he made the point to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan-American Health Organization, that in setting out their guidelines, they need to take cognizance of that fact that “not one size fits all sizes”.
Gonsalves also noted that last month, St. Vincent and the Grenadines banned entry for anyone coming out of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“Well that is not strictly embraced by the WHO and we put in a regime of requiring a PCR Ebola test for anybody who leaves Nigeria, and you must have that test for no earlier than seven days after you have left the country,” he said.
Gonsalves said St. Vincent and the Grenadines has put those things in place while the government is doing the education, training, and setting up the systems internally.
“We have to be on guard, and we have been vigilant from the beginning,” he told Parliament.