More Than 100,000 Cruise Ship Crew Members Remain Stuck at Sea

More than 100,000 cruise ship crew members remain stranded at sea more than two months after the industry temporarily suspended operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by the Miami Herald.

The newspaper’s analysis found that at least 578 crew members of various ships have contracted COVID-19 while at sea and seven have died as a result of the virus.

With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) banning cruising in U.S. waters through at least late July, many of the stranded crew members aren’t even getting paid. What’s more, unprecedented travel restrictions mean that many of these crew members have no idea when they’ll be allowed to return home.

“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 in an email. “As a result, there have been numerous complications and challenges. For example, we have 7,500 Filipinos on our ships in Manila, currently waiting to be allowed to go ashore.”

Meanwhile, MSC Cruises spokesperson Luca Biondolilo said that 95 percent of MSC crew stuck at sea live in countries where borders are still closed. Earlier this month, MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato told employees that the company plans to sail its North American ships to Europe so it can fly crew home.

“Getting all of our crew home safely remains our top priority. 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,” Royal Caribbean Ltd. spokesman Jonathon Fishman told the Herald. “We appreciate our crews’ patience and understanding in this ever-changing global situation.”

One crew member the paper spoke with likened the experience to “prison” while another expressed a “need to go home to work” to support their family.

Disney Cruise Line said it isn’t scheduling crew members who are concerned about working, telling the Herald that its “focus is on the health and well-being of our crew and we have a team working tirelessly to repatriate them.”

“With constantly changing requirements around the world and numerous borders still closed, this has proven to be an extremely complex process. We are using our ships to repatriate crew to Europe and the Caribbean and are continuing to try to arrange charter flights to other destinations,” added Disney spokesperson Kim Prunty.

Despite companies’ efforts, Rockford Weitz, director of the Maritime Studies Program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, believes the lengthy delay in returning crew members home could have a devastating impact on the industry moving forward.

“[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,” Weitz told the Herald. “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.”

For now, many cruise lines remain optimistic about the industry’s future, with some targeting return dates and others outlining their gameplans for surviving an extended pause in operations.

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Carnival to the Rescue as Ship Plans Impromptu Wedding

When an itinerary change canceled a mid-cruise wedding on land in Jamaica, officers and crew on Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom pulled off an impressive impromptu ceremony for the couple on the ship.

San Antonio couple Liza Garcia and Theodore Herrera planned to marry in Jamaica, but island officials were working through their coronavirus policies.

Without assurances that the ship would be able to dock, Carnival revised the itinerary to Key West instead so guests would still get a three-port vacation.

“All of us on board were heartbroken when we learned that Liza and Theodore weren’t able to go ashore for their wedding. We got together as a team and promised to deliver the dream wedding that they deserve,” said Nikhil Khanna, hotel director on the Carnival Freedom. “At Carnival, we want to make sure our guests are provided the vacation of a lifetime and when these types of unforeseen circumstances come up, we take great pride in creating these surprises and delightful moments that our guests will remember forever.”

The crew surprised the couple with an impromptu wedding for them and their guests sailing with them, with Captain Francesco La Farina presiding over the ceremony.

To get wedding ready, the bride had her hair and makeup done at the ship’s Cloud 9 spa, complimentary, of course.

Following the nuptials, the Carnival Freedom team pulled out all the stops with a reception with a buffet, a three-tiered wedding cake, an ice sculpture and a DJ who got everyone on the dance floor.

In addition to providing the shipboard wedding at no charge, Carnival even reimbursed the couple the funds for their canceled wedding in Jamaica. The couple also received a couples’ massages and dinner at Farenheit 555 Steakhouse during the voyage.

Congratulations to the happy couple and a hearty well-done to Carnival!

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