While most cruise ship passengers have now made it back to land, another crisis has been growing – with no safe haven in sight.
Around the world, more than 100,000 crew workers are still trapped on cruise ships, at least 50 of which have Covid-19 infections, a Guardian investigation has found. They are shut out of ports and banned from air travel that would allow them to return to their homes.
Many of these crew are quarantined in tiny cabins, and some have had their pay cut off. They have effectively become a nation of floating castaways, marooned on boats from the Galapagos Islands to the port of Dubai.
Many of the crew have only minimal communication with the outside world, making their situations hard to scrutinise. But at least 17 cruise ship workers are confirmed to have died from suspected Covid-19, and dozens more have had to be medically evacuated off ships and hospitalised, the Guardian found.
“We all have family, we all want to go home,” said one crew member who has been social distancing in his cabin aboard the MSC Seaview off the coast of South America for nearly a month, but is no longer being paid.
The worker, who spoke via an internet message and asked not to be named for fear of losing his job, said crew were initially allowed to move about the ship freely, but have been told to remain in their cabins since a worker who had already left the ship tested positive for Covid-19.
“We have not received any information about when we’re going home or what they are doing to get crew members home,” said the worker. “We are just in the cabin like prisoners.”
A spokesperson for MSC cruises said: “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 have 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.
We are offering all those who remain on board full board and lodging free of charge, assigning each of them a guest cabin for individual use. We’ve upgraded our menus, and are providing complimentary internet.”
Most industry workers hail from developing countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and India and generally earn between $1,000–$2,000 (£810- £1,620) a month for working seven days a week, according to Ross Klein, a professor at St John’s College in Newfoundland who has written four books on the cruise industry.
Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least one cruise line has stopped paying some workers who are trapped aboard.