When COVID-19 was officially declared an international pandemic in March 2020, thousands of cruise ships were caught in the middle of an unprecedented situation. They couldn’t complete their scheduled trips since ports were closing down, but many also couldn’t return to their port of origin due to fear of COVID-19 outbreaks aboard.
For months, the media documented the stories of cruise ship passengers and crew members who were trapped at sea on cruise ships that couldn’t gain approval to dock. Eventually all passengers were released, tested, and found their way home, but the same can’t be said about crew members.
More Than 12,000 Crew Members Remain On Cruise Ships
According to the U.S Coast Guard, as of August 8, 2020, there were still more than 12,000 crew members on ships in U.S waters. Brittany Panetta, a lieutenant commander and spokesperson for the U.S Coast Guard, explained that the Coast Guard “is tracking 57 cruise ships moored, at anchor, or underway in vicinity of a U.S port, or with potential to arrive in a U.S port, with approximately 12,084 crew members.”
Some of those 12,000 crew members may still be working, but many are sharing their stories of being forced to stay onboard in difficult circumstances.
“Our best estimate of the number of seafarers on cruise ships still awaiting repatriation is approximately 5,000, based on a survey of our major cruise line members,” said Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director of strategic communications for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
The majority of crew members still attempting to gain entry into their home country are from countries with closed orders.
“The feeling of being abandoned and neglected by our own country is very harsh on us,” said Celebrity Cruise crew member Akash Dookhun, about his home country of Mauritius. Dookhun has been on board for nearly 10 months, but many of his fellow crew members have been on board ships for over a year now.
Life On Board Amid the Pandemic
Crew members have taken to social media to share their experiences trapped on board cruise ships. Due to the health concerns over COVID-19, they are unable to enjoy most of the activities that attract travelers to cruise ships.
Instead, they have endured quarantine restrictions, lack of work, and even lack of pay.
“Crews were subject to a variety of regulations … that often required them to remain in their cabins for very extended periods of time,” said Adam Goldstein, the global chair of CLIA. “Sometimes far beyond the 14-day incubation cycle of COVID-19.”
Non-working crew can eat from the buffet, but gyms, bars, and any other places that promote socialization remain closed. The ships also hold a strict curfew between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
“Many crew members felt depressed on the ship I was on and on other ships,” shared Bruno Cruells, a music director for Celebrity Cruises. He noted one difficult stretch of 33 days of isolation in their cabins. “Every time a flight (home) was canceled, anxiety grew among the crew, and people dealt with it in different ways.”
The repatriation efforts continue for the approximately 5,000 international crew members who still need to return home. The three major cruise companies, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Corp. have been working to bring crew members home, but their job isn’t done quite yet.