International crew members remain stuck at sea as they wait to find out when they’ll be going home. Some are no longer being paid.
For most people, a cruise is a dream vacation, the elegant ship a place to forget their problems and relax as they venture into beautiful azure waters.
But for the crew members who find themselves confined to small, windowless rooms as they sail back and forth off Florida’s waters unable to go home, the situation is dramatically different.
As the novel coronavirus raged globally, cruise ships were not exempt from the pandemic. Nearly 600 crew members contracted COVID-19 at sea, and at least seven have died.
In light of this, on April 9 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) banned cruising in U.S. waters through at least late July.
A Tangled Mess
To ensure that its health guidelines would be strictly followed, the CDC established new rules limiting repatriation to private transportation, which can be very costly for the companies. The agency also required that a legal agreement be signed in accordance with these regulations.
Further complicating matters, some countries require that crew members be tested before they can return. For example, 7,500 Filipinos on Carnival ships in Manila are currently waiting to be allowed to go ashore, as the Philippines demands the workers be tested for COVID-19 before they are allowed back home. Others want the cruise companies to cover the cost of quarantine once the crew members arrive home.
In the meantime, in the midst of the money woes and legal entanglements, more than 100,000 crew members remain stuck at sea as they wait to find out when they’ll be going home.
The International Labor Organization, an arm of the United Nations, has recommended that the cruise companies pay workers, whether quarantined on land or at sea, at least sick wages during the pandemic. But because the companies and ships are registered abroad, U.S. labor laws do not apply to cruise ship workers.
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In fact, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, MSC Cruises, and Disney Cruise Line crew who are no longer working on board say they are not getting paid.
Still, the isolation, the endless sea journey with no end in sight, and the dire financial situation they face are nothing compared to the fear of being contaminated. Stuck at sea with others who are positive for the novel coronavirus, and are unable to be repatriated or sent home, crew members continue to catch COVID-19 onboard ships.
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