Governor tells HK Express to repatriate stranded passengers

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres gave Hong Kong Express Airways until the evening today, Feb. 14, to inform his office about the immediate plan of the airline to repatriate its 130 passengers who are stranded on Saipan.

Rafael Deleon Guerrero Torres

In his letter to HK Express general manager Nicolas Wong, the governor said the CNMI government understands the urgency of suspending flights in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak, but HK Express “hastily and without notice” left 130 of its travelers stranded in the CNMI with limited to no options for their return to their home countries.

He said these distressed individuals seeking information and assistance remain in contact with officials of the Commonwealth Ports Authority and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Saipan.

But airport officials and the stranded passengers have yet to hear from Hong Kong Express, the governor said.

CPA has also sent a letter of notice to HK Express regarding the situation, and requested immediate remedy.

According to CPA, the failure of HK Express failure to arrange for the return of the stranded passengers may result in the revocation of future charter flight services, or the imposition of additional conditions on the airline.

“I fully support and reiterate CPA’s request that HKE 1) communicate and maintain communication with the affected travelers regarding plans for their return, 2) ensure that the stranded travelers are provided with food, shelter, and other related welfare necessities while these arrangements are being made, and 3) most importantly, arrange for the immediate return of these stranded passengers back to their [initial point of embarkation],” the governor said.

He added, “I strongly urge Hong Kong Express to contact my office within the next 24 hours in acknowledgement [of] and response [to] these pressing concerns. If HKE fails to contact my office with immediate plans to repatriate these 130 stranded individuals by the evening of Feb. 14, 2020, I will have no choice but to contact the Office of the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China regarding this critical matter.”

For his part, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said the governor has been working closely with CPA, CBP and the Marianas Visitors Authority over the last few days to “address this issue and to take care of these travelers.”

Bautista said, “While safeguarding public health remains a top priority for this administration, this does not mean that innocent travelers should be abandoned. They must be given the opportunity to return home safely, and we will assist in making sure that happens.”

The Marianas, he added, “remains a safe and coronavirus-free destination, and we will continue to promote our beautiful islands to Korea, Japan, and the rest of the world.”

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