Cruise ship crew members are raising questions about whether their cruise line employers put them at risk for coronavirus COVID-19. Several media outlets have reported that employees on cruise ships feel they have been unnecessarily put at risk. Most recently, a crew member onboard the Celebrity Infinity ship has come forward with eyebrow-raising reports about behavior on the ship.
This report comes at a time when the U.S. Coast Guard reports that at least 100 cruise ships are still at sea with around 90,000 crew members still on board.
Cruise Ship Crew Member Raises Questions about Safety
According to the crew member, management and staff neglected social distancing. Furthermore, they were dismissive of her concerns when she voiced her opinion about the health and safety of the crew. She says,
“They made me feel I was crazy to even bring it up. Anytime anyone raised a question, it was the general response: the ship is the safest place to be.”
In March 2020, ship managers sent a memo to crew members on board the Celebrity Infinity letting them know that a crew member tested positive for COVID-19. The memo said that other crew members may have been exposed. Managers urged crew members to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and to take their temperature twice daily. The memo also urged crew members to avoid contact with others.
Even after managers sent the memo, crew members reportedly were still eating together in dining areas and were encouraged to participate in social events. Managers did not mandate a quarantine until the ship had been at sea for 14 days. It was also several days after the memo was sent that crew members were told that others onboard the ship also had symptoms of COVID-19.
In the time between disembarking and being quarantined, crew members ate in main buffet-style dining areas, participated in activities, gathered with hundreds of others and performed daily temperature checks across the ship. By the time the crew was told to social distance or quarantine, the virus was already spreading.
The crew member told CNN,
“(It) is just like every time it gets worse and worse. You’re in the middle of the ocean, you have nowhere to go. You don’t know if you’re safe or not because everything is shared, (the) ventilation system is shared.”
Currently, the Celebrity Infinity is not carrying passengers, but hundreds of crew members are still on board. The ship is located off the west coast of Florida.
Cruise Lines Under Scrutiny About Handling of COVID-19
The Celebrity Infinity crew member’s concerns are just the tip of the iceberg. Cruise lines are under a lot of scrutiny about how they have handled COVID-19. In March, 2020, the Cruise Lines International Association suspended operations for all cruise ships leaving from the U.S. for 30 days. However, thousands of crew members and passengers remain on ships already at sea.
Because of COVID-19, many ports are turning away ships and others are closing. That has left thousands of people essentially stranded at sea. Some of these ships have passengers or crew members who have symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive. Some even carry the bodies of deceased passengers or crew.
Cruise lines argue that they are taking immediate action when necessary. Royal Caribbean, who owns the Celebrity Infinity, says that they have implemented enhanced health measures, medical monitoring and sanitation procedures. These measures and the timing of health and safety precautions remain under scrutiny and investigation.
On April 3, 2020, USA Today confirmed that at least one crew member had died. Royal Caribbean, which owns Celebrity Cruises, previously said that crew members and passengers had “flu-like” symptoms. They have not confirmed whether the death is related to COVID-19. The U.S. Coast Guard, however, says that the deceased crew member on the Infinity had “COVID-19 like symptoms.”
Two crew members on board the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas also had COVID-19 like symptoms, were evacuated and later died. Again, Royal Caribbean has not confirmed if the deaths were due to COVID-19.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines for Cruise Ships
In March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that traces of COVID-19 were present inside cabins on the Diamond Princess for 17 days after the ship was evacuated. The CDC continues to assert that cruise ships pose a serious risk for rapid spread of COVID-19.
To help cruise ship passengers and crew navigate these unprecedented time, the CDC has guidelines for cruise ships. Primarily, the CDC says that travelers worldwide should avoid cruise travel. Cruise lines everywhere are not stopping travel, but the CDC cautions that passengers and crew onboard cruise ships are very vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. For travelers who do choose to take a cruise during these times, the CDC recommends:
- Do not get on a cruise ship if you are sick.
- Avoid contact with other people who are sick.
- Before you travel, discuss your plans with your healthcare provider.
- While you are on a cruise ship, wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
- If you are unable to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose without washing your hands.
- If you develop a fever or difficulty breathing, stay in your cabin and contact the ship’s medical center.
- If you were on a cruise ship in the last 14 days, you should quarantine at home for at least 14 days.
- Once you are out of quarantine, practice social distancing and avoid group gatherings.
For crew members, the CDC is working with cruise lines to get crew members home as quickly and safely as possible. The CDC is working with the U.S. Coast Guard, ports and Departments of State to help facilitate crew members disembarking and subsequent sanitation of ships.