Spate of suspected suicides, deaths among crew on cruise ships

A 32-year-old Filipino hotel utility employee on Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady was found dead, her cause of death is yet to be confirmed. Credit: Paul Ellis/AFP

Stranded and isolated on cruise vessels, the number of deaths of cruise ship crew members who work abroad has increased recently, with some cases allegedly involving suicide. Six seafarers who work on cruise vessels reportedly ended their lives over the course of last month, with one additional suspected case in which the seafarer did not die.

Separately, a Fillipino Crystal Cruises waiter died on the cruise vessel in June. However, Crystal Cruises has not yet released a statement identifying the cause of death. The most recent suspected suicide was that of a 32-year-old Filipino hotel utility employee on Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady, who according to a coastguard report, was found dead in his cabin from ‘apparent self-harm’. The seafarer had been on the vessel since at least March, when it was due to embark on its inaugural voyage ending in early August. Other crew have been found dead in their cabins: a Hungarian assistant shore excursion manager on Carnival Breeze, and a Chinese assistant waiter on Mariner of the Seas.

Many of the recent death cases reported allegedly involve cruise ship crew members going overboard, such as a case relating to a Ukrainian waitress on Regal Princess, who was reported by crew to have been “distraught” following news that her scheduled return flight to Kiev was cancelled, and another relating to a Polish electrician who went overboard on the Royal Caribbean International’s (RCCL’s) Jewel of the Seas.

An incident occurred at Tilbury, the United Kingdom, when an Indonesian crew member fell from deck 12 of cruise vessel Vasco da Gama onto a 20-foot-container on the quay below. “We confirm that there was an incident in the Port of Tilbury yesterday involving one of the seafarers on board a cruise vessel currently berthed at the port. The person remains in hospital and our thoughts are with their family and colleagues at this time.”

In several of the cases, it was anonymous members of the ships’ crew who reported the deaths, implying there may be many more which have gone unreported thus far.

For seafarers, thousands are still continuing to experience stress and anxiety over when they can be repatriated, after months spent at sea. These reported deaths have reportedly happened in parallel with recent protests that have erupted on various vessels in response to cruise lines and governments’ alleged inaction in repatriating seafarers: police were called to a protest on Mein Schiff 3; 15 Romanian crew on RCCL’s Navigator of the Seas staged a hunger strike until the company guaranteed them transit home; and on Majesty of the Seas, protesters hung a banner on the deck criticising the alleged inaction to repatriate the crew by RCCL. More discouraging is that assurances are challenging to make at this stage, requiring the sign-off of both cruise lines and governments.

An RCCL statement read, “So far, we have successfully repatriated over 16,000 crew members, and we are working with governments and health authorities around the world on our plans. We appreciate our crews’ patience and understanding in this ever-changing global situation.”

For anyone affected by this story or in need of mental health support, visit https://www.seafarerhelp.org/