Over 100 Hong Kong Express passengers stranded on Saipan

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ABOUT 130 Chinese tourists are stranded on Saipan after Hong Kong Express Airways suspended its operation to the CNMI without prior notice, Marianas Aviation Services chief executive officer Rob Combs said.

“Hong Kong Express is responsible for flying them back to their point of origin,” Combs told Variety in an interview on Wednesday.

“They knew exactly who they left behind,” he added.

Combs said among the stranded passengers are a mother and a daughter who will overstay their conditional parole on Friday.

He said they have sought the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Commonwealth Ports Authority to find a way to fly out of the island, but they did not get any solution.

“They cannot use other carriers to fly them out as it will be in conflict with the carrier agreement and transit rules,” Combs said.

He said he has also reached out to the office of U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan.

“Maybe his office has information on what can be done or how it can be handled, or maybe he can ‘raise the flag’ and tell Hong Kong Express that they have forgotten some people here.”

Combs said he likewise informed the Marianas Visitors Authority about the stranded passengers. “They were shocked to learn there was still no solution,” he added.

Combs said CPA, MVA, CBP, and the governor’s office “need to basically tell Hong Kong Express: ‘This is on you — you are committed to do this; you have left people stranded.”

Combs said the CNMI and U.S. governments should demand that Hong Kong Express “repatriate the tourist that they left behind — they intentionally stranded the passengers; they cancelled literally overnight without warning.”

Combs told Variety that his communication with the airlines’ customer service representatives has gone unanswered. “I’ve called them; I emailed them.”

Asked if President Donald Trump’s proclamation “suspending the entry…of persons who pose a risk of transmitting the 2019 novel coronavirus” led to Hong Kong Express’ flight cancellation, Combs said: “Partly…. But it was the airline’s decision to stop flights before they were finished with the job of returning the people that were already here with round-trip tickets.”

Other Chinese airlines, Combs said, “flew in empty from China and simply picked up everybody they brought to Saipan.”

He said the solution is for Hongkong Express “to make an announcement that they are coming back to get the people they left behind.”

Asked for comment, CBP ports director James Hofschneider, said the Chinese tourists’ parole visa waiver is valid for 15 days only.

Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said the administration will issue a statement as soon as CPA and MVA verified the information.

Variety was unable to get a comment from Hong Kong Express, but according to its website:

“Due to operational reasons, flights to / from Saipan between 6 February and 28 March 2020 (both days inclusive) have been cancelled. Rerouting and refund charges for all flights to/from Saipan during this period will be waived. Such requests should be made before departure. No-show guests are not eligible for the waiver. HK Express is closely monitoring the situation and will continue to coordinate with government authorities.”

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