The two Marshallese fishermen who were adrift for more than a month at sea were among those repatriated to the Marshall Islands today.
The fishermen drifted into an atoll in Chuuk, FSM early April. They were rescued after more than 40 days.
Today, they are expected to arrive in the Marshall Islands, along with five other Marshallese citizens who were stranded in Pohnpei because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
They are the first batch of stranded residents allowed to return back home to the Marshall Islands. According to the government:
“Majuro will be receiving its first group of repatriated RMI citizens today, 28 May 2020, from Pohnpei since international arrivals into RMI were halted on 8 March 2020. The fact that the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is COVID19 free has allowed for consideration by the National Disaster Committee (NDC) to allow the repatriation of these 7 Marshallese, which includes the two Kwajalein fishermen who were found in Chuuk.”
Flight arrangements were made with the government-owned Airlines of the Marshall Islands (AMI).
Before agreeing to bring the stranded citizens home, public health officials from both countries prepared a set of protocols, which include mandatory testing before boarding in Pohnpei and upon arrival at the airport in Kwajalein and Majuro.
Although the FSM and the Marshall Islands remain COVID-19 free, the seven are also required to go through a 14-day quarantine period.
By next month, the government plans to start discussions on the guidelines and protocols for citizens stranded in COVID-19 affected countries. But the government said the decision to allow its citizens back home will depend upon the completion of quarantine, isolation, and laboratory facilities in Majuro.
According to the government, the repatriation process would have to be done in batches of manageable numbers.
“The public should be informed that the NDC takes into serious consideration all medical advice provided from Ministry of Health and Human Services’ Public Health Division when formulating arrangements and protocols for the return of stranded citizens abroad, and no decision is made without the input of Ministry of Health and Human Services’ Public Health Division and its medical professionals,” the Marshall Islands’ government announced.