Seasons Travel and Tours (STT), the tour operator responsible for the 153 stranded passengers in Barbados, is liaising with Ghana's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get them transit visas to return home via Europe.
The Manager of the company, Mr Eric Bannerman, said last Friday that the passengers included Nigerians, Jamaicans, Ghanaians and Canadians who were returning to their destinations and that the actual passengers who would return to Ghana were about 30.
He said the company was paying for their accommodation, in decent guest houses, while it awaited the arrangements with the Foreign Ministry.
Mr Bannerman was responding to questions on arrangements to bring back the passengers, especially when Ghana International Airlines Limited (GIA) had denied that the passengers were its passengers.
According to the airline, it did not have any contractual relationship with the passengers because the passengers bought their tickets from STT.
“GIA did not either directly or indirectly sell tickets to the passengers,” it said in reaction by its acting CEO, Ms Gifty Annan-Myers, to protest about the headline of the story which portrayed the GIA as being responsible for the passengers.
The GIA said STT contracted the airline to transport its passengers to and from Barbados upon the payment of an agreed consideration fare (charter price) at seven days before each flight. The GIA under the agreement was to undertake two return flights to Barbados.
The first flight, according to GIA, left Accra on January 31, 2008 with 151 passengers and returned with no passengers to Accra on February 1, 2008 and STT paid the fixed portion of the charter price for that while the reimbursable expenses were yet to be paid by STT.
It said the second flight from Accra to Bridgetown was scheduled for February 15, 2008. However, STT had so far not been able to pay GIA the charter price.
The GIA said the problem had arisen because the Barbados Ministry of Transport, Works and International Transport was demanding that STT repatriate the passengers who landed on February 1, 2008 before it would be allowed to bring in any more passengers.
It said STT insisted that it would run into huge financial loss if it did not put passengers on the aircraft that would fly from Accra to that country to bring the first group to Accra.
In view of the development, GIA said it offered to carry the passengers at an agreed fare on its schedule flight from London Gatwick to Accra if STT transported them from Bridgetown to London.
The GIA said that it was informed by STT that 19 of the 151 passengers were willing and ready to return to Accra and in pursuance of that GIA, upon a request from STT, wrote to the British High Commission in Bridgetown on February 22, 2008 confirming that seats had been reserved for all the 19 passengers on GIA flight from London to Accra on February 23, 2008.
But the visas were not issued because the British consulate needed additional documentation.
After two postponements of the return flight on February 15 and February 29, 2008, the passengers were reported to have run out of money and many of them have resorted to working illegally as labourers.
Barbados government officials said some of the passengers had officially requested for work permits to allow them to support themselves while in that country.
The Barbados Ministry of Transport, Works and International Transport has stated that it is doing everything to ensure that the stranded passengers return home successfully.
“The first indication received by the Ministry of Transport, Works and International Transport of any intention to operate a direct charter service from Ghana to Barbados was an e-mail application dated January 17, 2008 from the GIA, in association with Seasons Travel and Tours, to permit a charter tour operation into Barbados on January 20, 2008 and depart the next day,” a government statement said.
Having received the application, the ministry said it queried the actual period of the tour, since no return date had been given, but on January 28, 2008, a revised application was received from the GIA, stating in part that the revised dates were now January 31, 2008, with a subsequent service on February 15 to return passengers.
It said on January 29, 2008, the GIA advised the ministry that it should expect 160 passengers in Barbados on January 31, 2008, out of which 40 would be proceeding to other Caribbean countries via alternative arrangements.
The remaining 120 were to return to Ghana on the flight on February 15, 2008.
Based on the arrangement and exchanges, a permit for the charter was issued to the GIA and, according to immigration documents, 153 passengers were landed in Barbados from the GIA flight, including those going to other Caribbean countries.
The Barbados government said the local ground handling agency for Seasons Travel and Tours had been very proactive in efforts to repatriate the passengers, while it was taking urgent steps, through Ghana's High Commission, towards the speedy repatriation of the stranded passengers.
Story by Stephen Sah