At least 100,000 cruise ship staff remain stuck at sea more than two months after coronavirus crippled the industry – with many not even getting paid, according to a report on Sunday.
Following a series of infections on-board ships, the cruise industry first shut down operations on March 13, with most passengers managing to get onto dry land by early April.
But two months after the closure, more than 100,000 crew are still stuck on ships still aimlessly cruising the seas waiting for permission to return to their homelands, according to an investigation by the Miami Herald.
Many are not getting paid because they are no longer officially working and US labour laws do not apply to the companies and ships registered abroad. Most also have no idea when they will finally be allowed by governments to dock and then eventually make it home, the paper says.
And there are still dangers, with 578 crew of various ships getting infected with COVID-19 at sea – at least seven fatally, the Herald said.
The conditions have left many so despondent that at least two crew members of different ships have jumped overboard in apparent suicides. Others have been on hunger strike.
“Here I am in a prison,” Gan Sungaralingum, 38, a crew member stuck on Carnival Corp.’s Sky Princess, told the paper.
Most of the cruise companies blamed government rules and regulations from preventing them from docking and fully disembarking during the pandemic.
“Our goal has been to repatriate our crew members as quickly as possible, but that has proven to be much more difficult in recent weeks because of port closures, country closures and global travel restrictions,” Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell told the Herald.
“As a result, there have been numerous complications and challenges.
Disney Cruise Line insisted that the “health and wellbeing” of crew members was a priority. “We have a team working tirelessly to repatriate them,” spokesman Kim Prunty told the Herald.
“With constantly changing requirements around the world and numerous borders still closed, this has proven to be an extremely complex process.”
MSC Cruises, meanwhile, says that 95 per cent of the crew left at sea live in countries where borders are still closed.
“We are constantly in contact with the Governments in these countries at the highest level on behalf of our crew and in some discreet cases we were able to persuade them to allow our crew back,” spokesman Luca Biondolilo told the paper.
Either way, the delay could forever damage the industry, experts warn.
The cruise companies “have to show they are going to have the capability in an emergency situation to get people at scale off of the ship and back home,” Rockford Weitz, director of the Maritime Studies Program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, told the paper.
“They have to be able to convince their customers they can find solutions and work constructively with public health authorities. The time for excuses at this point in May … there’s no excuse for not finding the way home,” he said.
This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission