Angry crew on board Mein Schiff 3 waiting to go home

Location of Mein Schiff 3 in Cuxhaven, Germany. Credit: IHS Markit AISLive ship tracking portal

Around 1,600 crew onboard Mein Schiff 3 are still waiting for repatriation while being quarantined due to COVID-19 onboard. Last week, 1,200 crew were flown out from Germany to Ukraine and Indonesia. Further flights are planned to Tunisia, Turkey, and Mauritius.

Eight with COVID-19 infected crew are in a nearby hospital after having been in onboard isolation for several days, and one is in a hospital in Cuxhaven. The remainder of crew has tested negative for the virus. 

Crew onboard the vessel have been stranded in Cuxhaven, Germany, since 30 April, after they were retrieved from other TUI Cruises-owned ships in the Mediterranean.

More and more crew voice anger towards TUI Cruises, telling the German public broadcaster NDR that the conditions on board are prison-like, with some crew reportedly staying in cabins without windows. Other employees said that they have not been able to leave the ship for the past two months and are not being paid as their contracts have expired. It is estimated that about 10,000 other crew face the same dilemma, stranded on board cruise ships around the world.

At the end of March, crew were presented with two contract options by an external human resources contractor, Sea Chefs, one giving notice to TUI Cruises and being paid until back home, the other with reduced working hours and reduced pay.

Crew complain that they were bullied out of choosing option one, fearing that they might not be rehired in future, which is especially problematic for crew who act as breadwinners for their families back home.

Maya Schwiegershausen-Gueth works for the International Transport Workers’ Federation and German workers union VERDI and is a Hamburger Hafen und Logistik supervisory board member. She worked on the contracts for the TUI Cruises crews and says, “Threatening crew on board is unacceptable and this is scandalous.”

She calls for an investigation into what happened. Both Sea Chefs and TUI Cruises deny threatening or blacklisting crew, but TUI Cruises confirms that 50 crew onboard receive room and board only.

That the quarantine is not going smoothly was also evidenced by police intervention earlier in May. They had to come onboard after crew smashed furniture.

The ship was only allowed to berth in Cuxhaven as TUI Cruises said that no crew had been exposed to external contacts since 23 March and that nobody on board had shown COVID-19 symptoms in the 14 days prior.  

This seems questionable as the last call of Mein Schiff 3 was at the port of Santa Cruz in Tenerife on 17–18 April where the ship stayed overnight. According to NDR, the ship bunkered and took in food supplies and also let more crew embark. 

TUI Cruises said in a statement, “on 17 April, crew from Mein Schiff 1Mein Schiff 2, and the Mein Schiff transferred to the Mein Schiff 3 via gangway”.

Mein Schiff 3 also called at the same port on 6 April and stayed for 11 hours, according to IHS Markit AISLive.

After 15 crew started to show flu-like symptoms upon arrival in Cuxhaven, TUI Cruises announced on 1 May that one crew member had tested positive for the virus, resulting in quarantine for everyone on board. 

Subsequent tests of all crew revealed eight more cases.

Initially, the shipowner wanted to transfer crew, who have tested negative for the virus, to sister ship Mein Schiff 6, currently anchoring in the Elbe River on standby, on 5 May in order to repatriate them. 

A total of 1,310 crew have been repatriated to their home countries since the ship arrived in Cuxhaven. They have been contacted and asked to continue quarantine on arrival. 

This article has been updated. It was first published on 6 May.