Two weeks ago a television program in the U.K., "Cruises Undercover: The Truth Below Deck," revealed the harsh working conditions aboard cruise ships operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises' subsidiary, Celebrity Cruises. The difficult working conditions and low pay are almost unimaginable by U.S. standards: 12 plus hour days, 7 days a week, 30 days a month with no days off over the course of 6 to 10 month contacts, for as little as $550 a month for non-tip earning ship employees.
The result of such a grueling schedule is exhausted and demoralized crew members who are often isolated from their families whose birthdays and anniversaries they miss on a regular basis.
The mental health and emotional well being of crew members is not a topic that is discussed in the U.S.
Few Americans seem concerned with the working conditions on cruise ships faced by citizens of the greater world community. Most U.S. citizens respond to the exploitation of crew members from India or Jamaica with the rationalization that whatever pittance the "foreign" crew members are receiving for working 90 hour weeks is more than the workers can receive back home. "If they don't like the work, they can quit" is the common wisdom. No doubt many crew members are easily replaceable considering that a country like India has hundreds of millions of people unemployed.
A week before the "Cruises Undercover" program aired, a Royal Caribbean crew member disappeared from the Serenade of the Seas as it sailed to Italy. The incident was briefly mentioned in the Italian press, as well as in newspapers in Croatia and Spain. We mentioned it in our article "Crew Member Goes Overboard From Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas," but no major media outlets in the U.S. was interested in covering the story.
For a U.S. based cruise industry whose mantra is the "safety of our passengers and crew is our highest priority," there is little expression of such a sentiment when a crew member disappears at sea.
This weekend another Royal Caribbean crew member disappeared. While this is not uncommon as I will explain below, what is unusual is that the disappearance involved the the same Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Serenade of the Seas. This incident was briefly mentioned in an Italian newspaper but, again, no one in the U.S, mentioned it. We reported on it on Saturday - "Another Crew Member Goes Overboard From Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas." Now two days later, no one else in the U.S. has reported on the story.
Yesterday, I posted a photograph of the Serenade of the Seas on our facebook page and asked "why are so many crew members going overboard from Royal Caribbean cruise ships? A number of former crew members commented and the consensus seems to be that cruise employees are working harder than ever for less money, One crew member said that working on a ship is "like going on a marathon before preparing yourself for it." Several former Royal Caribbean crew members left their thoughts which are worth reading.
The concern that I have is that there are so many crew members employed by Royal Caribbean who have gone overboard. Were these employees overwhelmed by work and felt hopeless away from their families? There is great stress placed on the cleaners, cabin attendants and waiters by their supervisors and department heads as Royal Caribbean struggles to stay profitable. Consider that in the three years I have written this blog, the following crew members have gone missing from Royal Caribbean / Celebrity cruise ships:
December 2009 - Majesty of the Seas - crew member jumped.
December 2009 - Monarch of the Seas - crew member jumped.
March 2010 - Radiance of the Seas - crew member jumped.
May 2010 - Explorer of the Seas - crew member jumped.
May 2010 - Oasis of the Seas - crew member disappeared.
March 2011 - Grandeur of the Seas - crew member disappeared.
March 2011 - Constellation - crew member disappeared.
May 2011 - Eclipse - crew member jumped.
December 2011 - Summit - crew member jumped.
January 2012 - Monarch of the Seas - crew member disappeared.
September 2012 - Serenade of the Seas - crew member disappeared.
October 2012 - Serenade of the Seas -crew member disappeared.
The official investigation into these types of incidents lies with the flag state. But countries like the Bahamas will never go onto a Royal Caribbean ship to investigate a crew death or disappearance and will never, ever criticize the cruise line.
An independent and objective investigation is needed to determine why crew members are going overboard from Royal Caribbean ships. If the cases involve suicides, an inquiry is needed to determine whether the long hours and low pay are contributing causes. There is no question that the crew members need greater rest and greater pay.
If I ran a large business and one dozen of my employees ended their lives or just "disappeared," I would launch an investigation and get to the bottom of the problem.
But cruise line executives think differently. None of this puts money in the cruise line's pockets. The crew are viewed as cogs in the machine. When they break, they are easily replaced.
If you have a thought about this issue or have information about any of these cases, please leave a comment below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.
December 4, 2016 Update: A newspaper in Australia mentions this article in The One Issue You Should Consider Before Going On A Cruise. "Passengers just need to remember that the crew are working incredibly hard, and long hours, while they put their feet up on holiday. So tip them well and treat them with respect."