Cruise crew remain stranded and unpaid at sea

MSC Seaview. Credit: JONES, CECIL A

More than 100,000 cruise crew remain at sea amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic, with many of them on vessels still affected by the virus.

Some 50 vessels are confirmed to be impacted by the virus, and about 17 crew members have died, with many more having required evacuation. Ports around the world have closed and governments are refusing to repatriate crew, with many seafarers trapped on their vessels.

An exposé by the Guardian quoted an anonymous crew member aboard MSC Seaview, at anchor off São Paulo, contacted via video call. Similar to their colleagues, they were isolated in their cabin. “We’ve not received any information about when we’re going home or what they are doing to get crew members home,” the interviewee, who is no longer being paid, said. “We are just in the cabin like prisoners. We all have family, we all want to go home.

“We’re offering all those who remain on board full board and lodging free of charge, assigning each of them a guest cabin for individual use,” said an MSC spokesperson. “We’ve upgraded our menus and are providing complimentary internet.

“MSC Cruises has taken the difficult decision to temporarily suspend its cruise ship operations. As this health crisis has caused all our ships globally to stop operating, we’ve temporarily agreed to relieve the majority of our crew from their duties and are working to identify and pay for flight tickets for each and every one to safely return home for the duration of the temporary suspension of ships’ operations,” said the MSC spokesperson.

Various countries have ruled out the possibility of vessels docking and unloading any personnel at their ports, mainly to avoid another situation such as the Ruby Princess’ case, where 2,700 cruise passengers, many of them infected with the virus, were allowed to disembark the vessel. Currently, there are 21 deaths that are linked to Ruby Princess, as well as some 30% of Australian COVID-19 cases. A criminal investigation is under way to ascertain who was to blame for the disembarkation and subsequent infections in Australia.

IHS Markit AIS data suggests that a large number of cruise ships have spent the majority of their time moored or anchored. Between January 2020 to April 2020 the percentage of total time not moving has jumped from an average of 20% to more than 60% for vessels larger than 10,000 gross tonnes.