More than 100,000 cruise ship workers remain isolated at sea — and many have-not been paid in weeks — as the coronavirus pandemic rages.
The Miami Herald reported that the ships are spread across the world — some near Miami, where they dock every so often to take on fuel and supplies, and some on transatlantic journeys as they attempt to return workers to their home countries. With international air travel nearly shut down and cruise companies struggling to pay their bills, purchasing private and charter flights to send workers home is not an option.
Many of the workers stuck on the ships are no longer under contract, but they're unable to leave because in many cases, local, state, and national governments won't let anyone step off a cruise ship, several of which have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, and enter their jurisdiction.
"This is a totally new situation for everybody," Cruise Business Magazine editor Teijo Niemela told the Herald. "There is no guidebook for this."
The workers have been staying in cabins normally used by paying passengers, and food is provided to them. They are required to visit the dining areas and gyms at specified times as the ships control how many people gather together.
In some cases, however, workers said ship captains have been less than forthcoming about their status. And recordings obtained by the Herald indicate that the ships weren't entirely truthful to the workers in the early days and weeks of the pandemic regarding illnesses that were cropping up onboard.
Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell told the Herald the situation is complicated.
"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," Frizzell said.
"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."
Frizzell, a spokesman for Royal Caribbean Ltd., said, "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. We appreciate our crews' patience and understanding in this ever-changing global situation."
There are several ships in the Bahamas, staying out to sea but close enough to shore. Others have traveled across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in attempts to drop off crew members.
More than 40 cruise ships have reported coronavirus cases onboard, which totals in the thousands. Dozens have died.
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