Five months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a no sail order due to COVID-19, around 12,000 crew members are still onboard cruise ships waiting to go home. While this number is significantly better than the 70,000 crew members stuck on passenger ships in May, it is still a significant reason for concern.
How Many Crew Members are Still on Cruise Ships?
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there are 57 ships in the vicinity of a U.S. port, moored, anchored, or enroute. These cruise ships are carrying more than 12,000 crew members. Of those, the Coast Guard estimates that 209 crew members are Americans working on 37 ships. The CDC estimate is lower, with 53 American crew members on 22 ships.
In either case, crew members continue to face a harrowing ordeal as they work or live on these ships for much longer than they anticipated. Many crew members’ contracts have expired during the no sail order, but they are still working and living on the cruise ships because they cannot disembark.
The CDC says that they do not know if the American crew members still on board ships are considered “essential” for the operation and seaworthiness of the ship. The CDC also does not know whether these crew members are actively working or are stuck waiting for repatriation. The agency says that the U.S. is allowing crew members to disembark at U.S. ports.
Cruise ships must maintain a certain “minimum manning” requirement for safety, upkeep and basic operations, even when no passengers are onboard. That requirement varies by ship and company.
Challenges for Crew Members on Cruise Ships Returning Home
In some cases, repatriation is the challenge for crew members. Many countries not allowing crew members to return home. In other cases, there are challenges due to flight restrictions and quarantine efforts. Repatriation of crew members is the responsibility of the cruise line, including organizing transportation home.
The industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) told USA Today,
“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.”
The result is crew members that have been at sea for months – some even more than a year. Some have called the extended voyages and challenges with repatriation a “humanitarian and safety crisis.” Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean say that they are continuing to do everything possible to get crew members home. Unfortunately, they are facing challenges of their own due to travel restrictions and lockdowns.
Crew Members Experience a Strained Way of Life on Cruise Ships
Crew members who remain on cruise ships report a strained way of life. Quarantine restrictions and a lack of work have caused many to report mental health issues. Many crew members have been quarantined in their cabins for more than the 14-day COVID-19 incubation window. For those who are not under quarantine, life on a cruise ship is far less exciting than when they are sailing with passengers.
One crew members reports a lot of boredom. Facilities that may encourage socializing, such as gyms, bars, etc. are all closed. Non-working crew members are allowed to eat at the buffet, but have few options for entertainment. Crew members have a curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and must stay in their cabins during these hours.
In addition to the boredom and frustration, crew members also have concerns about their finances. Some crew members are still receiving paychecks, even if they are not working. Sadly, not all cruise lines are extending the same form of financial protection for their workers. Numerous crew members have filed lawsuits against their employers for not paying them while they were forced to remain onboard.
Numerous crew members report that this strained way of life is compromising their mental health. They say that the situation goes far beyond boredom and frustration. Crew members report stress, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. One crew member reports considering self-harm as a means of getting off the ship because she would go to a hospital. There are reports of some crew members on cruise ships committing suicide during the lockdown.
Learn More about Crew Member Rights
There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the cruise industry. Cruise line crew members and contractors continue to face unprecedented challenges as they seek to continue working or return home. Many crew members believe that their employers did not do enough to protect them from the coronavirus. Others feel that they are subject to forced labor.
In any of these situations, the best course of action for cruise ship crew members is to contact a maritime lawyer who can advise them of their rights. At Maritime Injury Guide, our coronavirus cruise ship lawyer is working with crew members and passengers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact us for a free consultation, and let our maritime lawyer advise you on your rights and the responsibilities of cruise lines during this pandemic.
To schedule your free consultation, call us at 1-877-363-6148. You can also request more information by completing our online contact form.