A female crew member of a cruise ship who stayed in Grand Cayman after her ship left on March 22 was sentenced to three months in prison for illegally remaining on the island for 12 days when she appeared in Summary Court on Friday.
Yusmaidys Ortiz Perez, 34, who had worked as a bar waitress aboard the MSC Opera, came ashore while the cruise ship was in port on March 22 and did not return to the ship. Defense attorney Prathna Bodden told the court that Ms. Ortiz Perez “broke down” after leaving the ship because her partner in Cuba had threatened to kill her and a manager on the ship was “exploiting” her.
“While on the ship, she was exploited by a manager and she was asked to perform certain duties and if she didn’t, she was told she would lose her job,” Ms. Bodden said.
The court hearing began with Magistrate Adam Roberts asking if the defendant, a Cuban national, needed an interpreter. She indicated that she understood more English than she spoke and she was ready to go ahead.
The magistrate then put the charge to her: that between March 22 and April 3, she had illegally remained in the Cayman Islands. She pleaded guilty.
Crown counsel Aaliyah McCarthy said Ms. Ortiz Perez arrived on the cruise ship and came ashore, but did not return to the ship by 4 p.m.
This fact was reported to Cayman’s Immigration authorities. Ms. Ortiz Perez was located and arrested in Mount Pleasant, West Bay, on April 3. She had no legal basis for remaining in the Cayman Islands, Ms. McCarthy said.
Police sent out a press release on April 3 advising that Ms. Ortiz Perez had been located. It also stated that the circumstances of her time in Cayman were under investigation. An earlier press release from police, sent out on March 28, had requested assistance from the public in locating her after authorities received a report on March 27 that she “went missing.”
Ms. Bodden related the woman’s story, noting first that she had no previous convictions. Ms. Ortiz Perez has a 2-year-old child, who is in the care of Ms. Ortiz Perez’s mother. Ms. Ortiz Perez began working on the ship in December.
The attorney indicated that Ms. Ortiz Perez did not welcome the attention from the manager. When invited to his room or other places on the ship, she would say no because she had been working 11 hours or because she did not want to.
There is a “Cuban community” on the ship, Ms. Bodden explained. Ms. Ortiz Perez had a partner back in Cuba and a message was sent to him that she had taken up a relationship with that manager. Her partner sent word back that he was going to kill her.
A message Ms. Ortiz Perez received said, “As soon as you come to the dock, somebody will be waiting and this is what is going to happen to you.”
According to a website itinerary, the MSC Opera would have returned to Havana on March 24.
Ms. Ortiz Perez came off the ship in Cayman and broke down, Ms. Bodden said. Ms. Ortiz Perez told her that she was approached by strangers who offered to help her. They took her to a place that was clean and gave her food. Nobody else was there and a few days passed. Then they took her to another place, where she was also alone, and gave her food.
“They did not take advantage of her in any way,” Ms. Bodden emphasized.
Then the strangers did not come back. They seemed to have panicked, realizing they were doing something they should not, Ms. Bodden suggested.
In response to a query from the Cayman Compass, police confirmed the woman was not at a residence when she was located by officers and no other arrests were made in the case. Ms. Ortiz Perez accepted that she should not have stayed in Cayman, her attorney said. “She still wants to work and look after her family.”
The magistrate said that the offense of remaining in Cayman illegally would normally be met with a deportation order. In this case, the only place Ms. Ortiz Perez could return to was Cuba.
“I accept you are in distress and find yourself in a difficult position,” the magistrate told Ms. Ortiz Perez. “The sentence will allow you to get help, while expressing disapproval of what you’ve done.”
He handed down a term of three months’ imprisonment, with a recommendation for deportation on completion of the sentence. Ms. Bodden asked him not to recommend deportation, “because it would happen anyway, if she hasn’t found a legal way to stay here.”
The magistrate said he felt he had to be consistent with other court decisions for such an offense. “Either she gets permission to stay or she doesn’t,” he pointed out.
Ms. Bodden asked if Ms. Ortiz Perez could be kept at the Immigration Detention Centre, but the magistrate said that where she served her sentence was not a matter for the court. An immigration officer said the prison would have to make the final decision.