Reducing the occupancy of ships once the industry is permitted to return to sailing is an integral first step toward combating the spread of COVID-19. But fewer passengers means fewer cruises fares sold. And most significantly, reduced occupancy means reduced onboard revenue from alcohol sales, casinos, gift shops, specialty restaurants and shore excursions. I have always doubted that the current cruise excutives would ever voluntarily reduce the number of customers who buy cruises and drink, eat and gamble on their ships.

Financial Times reported yesterday that NCL CEO Frank Del Rio and Royal Caribbean’ CEO Richard Fain, who recently announced a joint “Healthy Sail” panel, warned of a “severe blow” to the industry if social-distancing measures that reduce the number of passengers on ships are required.

“One of the hallmarks of the cruise industry is that we always sail with full ships. It’s one of the basic tenets of our business model,” cruise executive Del Rio told the Financial Times. Lower capacities “would be a severe blow” to financial performance, he added. CEO Fain said that it is a “simplistic approach” to “assume that you simply take what happens on land and apply it on to the sea.”

CEO Del Rio is right, of course, at least about the industry always operating its increasingly huge ships at 100% occupancy in order to maximize profits. Royal Caribbean made a business decision over a decade ago to embark on building the largest cruise ships at sea which hold record numbers of passengers and crew. Ships like the Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas, among others, led Royal Caribbean to record profits year after year.

Humongous ships filled with paying customers and operating non-stop is indeed a cornerstone of the wealthy cruise industry’s business model, together with incorporating in foreign countries and registering ships in feckless flag of convenience countries like Panama and the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. taxes, U.S. wages and labor laws, and U.S. safety regulations.

Huge cruise ships packed with passengers seems to be one of the factors which led to the CDC issuing its “no sail” order due to the pandemic. In its first no sail order in March, the CDC noted that the “high volume of people” who are assembled and intermingle together is a key feature of cruise ships which increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

In the past several months, there has been scuttlebutt that cruise lines will operate their ships at as little as 40% occupancy depending on the type of ship. And some cruise executives, like Richard Fain, previously discussed having fewer passengers on board their ships to allow for social distancing. “My guess is that when we start, we will limit the number of people who can go onto a ship just as my neighborhood restaurants are beginning to open up,” he told CNBC six weeks ago. But CEO Fain has changed hs mind before, like when he recently called the wearing of mask a “silly idea” after his company said face masks would be used throughout his fleet if the Royal Caribbean “faceview” were accepted as a patent.

It remains uncertain what precautions the RCCL/NCL “Healthy Sail” panel will submit to the CDC at the end of next month. But one thing is certain, the cruise executives will try to convince the CDC to let them sail their ships full of guests.  The EU protocls, which members of the “Healthy Sail” panel were partially responsible for creating, has no mention of reducing the number of passengers anywhere in its 49 pages.

As we mentioned in our article yesterday,  Dr. Scott Gottlieb who NCL and Royal Caribbean hired to co-chair the “Healthy Sail” panel, stated last March that “it’s an awful risk to pack a lot of people on a cruise ship.” But now, after he finds himself on the cruise lines’ payroll, he changed his tune to agree with NCL’s CEO Del Rio that a cruise ship can be among the “safest place on earth.”

Del Rio collected over $85,000,000 in the last five years. NCL collected nearly $1,000,000,000 in profits, with Royal Caribbean profiting with $1,800,000,000 and Carnival with $3,200,000,000. In March, Del Rio stated that any restrictions on cruise operation should “immediately stop.” CEO Fain has collected an average of $12,000,000 a year in compensation each year for the last 6 years for a total of approximately $72,000,000. He collected $14,358,919 in compensation in 2019, $12,422,715 in 2018, $13,343,413 in 2017, $10,405,684 in 2016, and $12,013,878 in 2015.

There is no way these cruise lines will collect billions of dollars in income or the CEO’s will receive tens of millions of dollars in compensation each year with their ships half or a quarter filled.  That’s why when the so-called “Healthy Panel” comes out with its protocols next month, there will be no mention of reduced occupancy. The CEO’s will try and pack their ships with as many paying passengers as their ships will hold.

It’s is hard to take the cruise lines’ claim seriously that the “health and safey of guests is their highest priority.” It seems more accurate to say that the cruise tycoons’ wealth rather than their customers’ health remains their primary conern.

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Photo credits: Richard Fain – Richard Fain Interviews Governor Mike Leavitt About RCL & NCLH’s Joint “Healthy Sail Panel” via Cruise Critic; Frank Del Rio – Opening Bell, January 11, 2018 from CNBC.

Today the U.K. government issued advice against cruise ship travel.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) originally issued guidance last March advising those U.K. nationals who are over-70 years of age and those with underlying medical health conditions, such as chronic diseases and diabetes, against taking cruises. A FCO spokeperson state in March:

“Our first priority is the safety of British nationals. The nature and design of cruise ships – where passengers are contained and the virus can spread faster – makes them a particularly risky environment for vulnerable people. We’ve already seen the impact a coronavirus outbreak can have on board a cruise ship and we have changed this advice with the safety of British nationals in mind.”

The U.K. government updated its advice today, saying that “the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against cruise ship travel at this time. This is due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England. The government will continue to review its cruise ship travel advice based on the latest medical advice.”

You can read the FCO’s advice here.

Cruises from the U.K. have been halted since March. Travel Weekly reported that Hurtiguten recently announced plans to operate cruises from U.K. ports starting in September.

The announcement surprised and angered many travel agents and cruise fans.

Jane Archer, a U.K. travel journalist and super cruise fan, went so far as to claim that the cruise industry has “moved heaven and earth to make sure its ships are safe.” The fact of the matter is that few cruise lines have even announced their new COVID-19 precautions at this point. More startling, there are still crew members on cruise ships at sea and on ships in ports in the U.K.  who the cruise lines have not even repatriated home at this late date, nearly four months after cruising was suspended. Some crew members are still testing positive for COIVD-19 on ships. Others are tested positive when they finally repatriated home.   

The Guardian reported last month that the U.K.’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) detained four ships operated by the U.K.’s Cruise and Maritime Voyages (photo right) moored in the U.K. after inspectors found expired and invalid seafarers employment agreements, late wage payments and crew members who had been on board for over 12 months, in breach of the Maritime Labour Convention. The crew members had to organize a hunger strike to bring attention to their mistreatment.

The U.K. cruise ban comes shortly after the EU just announced “interim advice for restarting cruise ship operations after lifting restrictive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic” dated June 30th.  These new guidelines are arguably a good first start but they clearly do not adequately protect the public’s health and safety in many respects. The EU advice fails to even require social distancing as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A number of readers reacting to this news are predicting the end of cruising for the foreeable future, perhaps until 2022 or until there is a vaccine. Here are some comments from the Travel Weekly article:

  • Maybe just maybe the FCO have been listening to my views – cruising is out until 2022 at the earliest. Health before wealth. On a liner of say 3-5000 passengers it just takes one person to be diagnosed and the ship is closed by EVERY port. This government is doing a marvellous job – well done.
  • The Virus is not now under control. The U.K. will experience a similar spike to the U.S. (where the lockdown was lifted prematurely). Even places such as Hong Kong and Australia, known for robustly controlling the virus, are seeing spikes. Parts of Melbourne are back under lockdown.
  • The complexity and variability of the restrictions is a disaster for the sector. Combined with the lack of financial support the travel industry as we know it is history.
  • This will be in place until a vaccine is found. No question.
  • Well I think we can all forget cruising in 2020. It would just be impossible in the present environment. It makes no difference on the size of the ship. Countries at the moment dont want cruise ships. Simple. Travel is coming back, cruising is the not for the near future.

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Photo credits: Cruise and Maritime Voyages

Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line recently announced that they hired a panel of former public health officials to advise the cruise lines regarding how to safely return to cruise operations. Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio announced that they created the “Healthy Sail Panel” to assure the plans which they intend to submit to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will apply the best available public health and scientific measures. The panel’s co-chair Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, questioned in a recent interview with Travel Weekly whether “taking a cruise potentially be a safer way to vacation in a COVID environment than going to London? I think it might.”

No Safer Vacation?

Several major newspapers picked up on Dr. Gottlieb’s far-fetched claim, including Fox News which published Health Expert Claims Cruise Ship Could Be Safer Travel Than Some Major Cities to Avoid Coronavirus.

The trouble with Dr. Gottlieb’s hyperbolic claim is that it is completely inconsistent with other statements which the former FDA chief made before he was paid to join the joint cruise line team of experts.  In March, the U.S. State Department cautioned U.S. travelers against taking cruises as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded – a warning which, at the time, Dr. Gottlieb said “he fully agrees with,” according to an article in USA TODAY.

Dr. Gottlieb Warns Against Cruising – It’s An Awful Risk

The CDC eventually ordered a suspension of cruises from the U.S. on March 13th after a number of cruise ships experienced outbreaks of COVID-19. The Miami Herald reported that there were over 3,600 infections on cruise ships and around 95 passengers and crew member died due to coronavirus. The New York Times reported an even higher number of cases on more than 100 cruise ships. Incredibly, the Times reported that the virus was aboard almost 90% of the 121 cruise ships which entered U.S. waters after March 1st. The CDC’s No Sail order specifically refers to the fact that “cruise ship travel markedly increases the risk and impact of the COVID-19 disease outbreak.”

“I don’t think anybody should be taking a cruise right now … this is a very sticky pathogen,” the doctor explained last March 9th, and once it gets inside a closed space such as a cruise ship, it spreads widely. He gave the Diamond Princess cruise ship as an example of the wide spread of COVID-19, where more than 700 people were infected and over a dozen people subsequently died. “It’s an awful risk to pack a lot of people on a cruise ship,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

There is no scientific basis for Dr. Gottlieb or any expert to claim that cruising is now safer than it was four months ago. The only difference appears to be that the good doctor is now on the payroll of the cruise lines, a point not lost on many people on Twitter:

The Surge of COVID-19 Cases Will Continue Through This Fall and Winter Long after Cruising is Scheduled to Resume

CBS News interviewed Dr. Gottlieb three days ago on Sunday, July 5, 2020, on “Face the Nation,” one day before Royal Caribbean and NCL that he was co-chair of the “Healthy Sail Panel” which CEO Fain calls the “brain trust.”  Dr. Gottlieb stated in the interview (transcript available here) that there is now a substantial spike in new COVID-19 cases. He noted that the current infection rate of 60,000 cases per day is almost twice of what they were in April, when daily cases were arounnd 35,000. Dr. Gottlieb opined that “This week, maybe we’ll reach 75,000 or get close to it.”  He predicted a “hard fall” and stated there the surge of new COVID-19 cases will continue through the fall and winter (well past the new cruise start up date CLIA announced of September 15th for Royal Caribbean and NCL).

Dr. Gottlieb said last Sunday that “the difference now is that … now we really have four major epicenters of spread: Los Angeles, cities in Texas, cities in Florida, and Arizona. And Florida looks to be in the worst shape.” Ironically, three of these states, Florida, California and Texas, have major cruise ports.

NCL’s CEO: A Cruise Ship is the “Safest Place on Earth” – What About Masks? 

Earlier this summer, NCL CEO Frank Del Rio claimed in a friendly interview with a travel publication that Cruise Ships Can Be Safer Than Anywhere Else. Del Rio went on to argue that “people are rushing to bars and restaurants as they reopen, they want to get back to their normal lives, and cruising is a part of their normal lives.” This week, Del Rio claimed that a cruise ship can be among the “safest places on earth.” Del Rio seems to believe that disregarding the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing and the wearing of masks is a good thing rather than a major problem that needs to be discouraged.

This summer several NCL ships openly flaunted the CDC’s social distancing and mask protocols when the Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Epic were at the port of Miami with thousands of crew members aboard. In early May, I wrote two articles about the NCL’s reckless disregard of the CDC’s social distancing and mask policies:  Ridiculously Overcrowded” Norwegian Escape Sails to Miami and Norwegian Epic – the Latest NCL Cruise Ship to Ignore the CDC’s Social Distancing Rule. Many hundreds of crew members were videotaped crowding around bars with no social distancing or wearing of masks.

It should therefore come to no-one’s surprise that when NCL announced its preliminary COVID-19 protocols last week, which NCL calls its “Peace of Mind Safe Sail” measures, there was no mention of the wearing of face protection.

A “Dumb Idea” – Royal Caribbean View Of Masks

Royal Caribbean Richard Fain also doesn’t seem to support the CDC’s face covering protocols. He intimated during an interview last month with Cruise Critic that the a mask was essentially a “dumb idea,” likely for no reason other than polling indicates that few people will to return to crusing if they have to wear a mask.  Ironically, Royal Caribbean filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office this Spring for a new brand of sanitary facial masks, dubbed “Seaface.” The patent states that the mask was designed for “virus isolation purposes.”  Several months ago, a company spokesperson said that if the patent is approved, the company will implement the safety devices on all of its ships across each brand. But recently CEO Richard Fain said that the cruise line is no longer pursuing the mask concept. Fain told Cruise Critic “For innovation to work, you need to look at a lot of ideas, including a lot of dumb ideas … We look at a lot of ideas, and sometimes even the dumbest of them inspire really good related ideas. That was one idea (the Seaface) that was thrown out of which we’re not pursuing.”

What Other Opinions Will the Brain Trust Change?

It will be interesting to see if Dr. Gottlieb abandons his opinion (expressed just last month) and current CDC directives that the wearing of a mask and social distancing are crucial to limiting the spread of COVID-19.  The typical over-stated and non-scientific opinions of cruise executives can be explained, perhaps, as part of their job to their shareholders to promote confidence in their business.  How does Dr. Gottlieb justify the abandonment of his scientific principles?

It’s disappointing to see a doctor who the cruise lines promote as a top epidemiologist and former public health official make such a preposterous claim. Going from correctly labeling a cruise ship as creating an “awful risk” to parroting a cruise executive description as the “safest place on earth” raises  doubts as to the expert’s credibility and the genuiness of the cruise industry’s claim that their customers’ health and safety, rather than money, is its highest piority.

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A Filipino crew member, employed by Disney Cruise Line as a painter aboard the Disney Wonder, died on Tuesday according to the Miami Herald.

Eddie Burgos Ragodon visited the cruise ship’s medical center in recent days with chills, according to another crew member who communicated with the newspaper. It appears that he did not undergo a test for COVID-19 recently.  The article states that Disney will now test Mr. Ragodon for COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) via an email to the newspaper.

Mr. Ragodon’s Facebook page shows him on the Disney Wonder in San Diego throughout the months of March and April (including photographed in isolation in his cabin), sailing through the Panama Canal in early June, and arriving at several ports in the Caribbean in Barbados and Jamaica in later June where the ship finally repatriated crew members to their homes in the islands.

On June 13th, Mr. Ragodon posted on Facebook: “Goodbye fellow filipino crew…transffered to Disney Dream to wait for thier charttered flight going home on june??Me…i will stay on board until ???”

Goodbye fellow filipino crew…transffered to Disney Dream to wait for thier charttered flight going home on june??Me…i will stay on board until ????⚓⚓⚓

Posted by Eddie Burgos Ragodon on Saturday, June 13, 2020

Disney Wonder – One of the Largest COVID-19 Outbreaks on a Cruise Ship

The Miami Herald reported that “at least 255 people on board the Disney Wonder have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 1, the CDC said, making it among the largest known cruise ship outbreaks.” The Herald is the first newspaper to report on the widespread COVID-19 outbreak on the Disney Wonder which we reported on in articles dated and April 5, April  6, May 19, 2020.

On Friday, a San Diego County resident who was a passenger aboard the Disney Wonder reportedly has tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to a local hospital . . .

Posted by Cruise Law News on Saturday, March 28, 2020

There is no question that a large number of former guests on the Disney cruise ship developed COVID-19 symptoms after they disembarked in San Diego from the March 6 to March 19 cruise from New Orleans to San Diego. Disney also knew that a guest who had cruised on a prior cruise to Mexico from February 27th to March 2nd had tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from that cruise.

Our firm is aware of at least three passengers on the Disney Wonder who later died due to COVID-19.

Regarding Mr. Ragodon, it is less than clear whether he had been tested for coronavirus in back in April or March. In early May, Disney tested all  the crew members on the Disney Wonder at that time. 203 crewmembers out of 737 tested positive for COVID-19 according to the CDC.

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Photo credit: Eddie Burgos Ragodon Facebook page.

Consider reading:

Around 200 Crew Members on Disney Wonder Reportedly Test Positive for COVID-19

Thirty-Eight Crew Members on Disney Wonder Reportedly Test Positive for COVID-19

Former Guests on the Disney Wonder Test Positive For COVID-19 – Did Disney Know that a Guest on a Prior Cruise Tested Positive?

This weekend, several employees of Pullmantur Cruises informed me that employees (or contractors) hired by Royal Caribbean (which has a 49% ownership in Pullmantur) were involved in removing equipment from and dismantling the interiors of two of the companies’ cruise ships.

The Monarch and Sovereign are currently at the cruise port of Naples, Italy (Stazione Marittima – Terminal di Napol) where a large amount of equipment is reportedly being removed. The interiors of both Pullmantur ships are essentially being dismantled in a huge undertaking where there are around 1,500 pallets being assembled to ship the items from each of the ships. Several individuals who do not wish to be identified state that “everything of value” is being removed from the ships, including artwork and navigational and electrical equipment.

For example, workers are dismantling the theater including the LED wall (photo right), on the Monarch, which projected show backgrounds as well as stage lighting and other production equipment.

Pullmantur is reportedly keeping the project “extremely secretive.” The crew is being kept in the dark regarding the plans for the future of the company.

Pullmantur’s third ship in its fleet, the Horizon, is currently off of the coast of Mumbai where it disembarked Indian crew members from both Pullmantur and Azamara.

What's going on with the Pullmantur fleet? The former Royal Caribbean Monarch & Sovereign (of the Seas) in Naples, Italy.

Posted by Cruise Law News on Sunday, June 21, 2020

There are rumors that all of the Pullmantur ships will be going to scrap. There is nothing substantiated at this point. All three ships, Sovereign (built in 1988), Horizon (1990), and Monarch (1991) and are relatively old and inefficient. The Monarch and the Sovereign (of the Seas) used to be in the Royal Caribbean fleet; the Horizon used to be operated by Celebrity Cruises. At the same time, several other people have informed me that two of Pullmantur’s ships are for sale – the Monarch for $125,000,000 and the Horizon for $65,000,000 – although it is clear that they have been on the market long before the pandemic began.

Last week the Cruise Industry News and the popular Travelling with Bruce page on YouTube reported that Pullmantur canceled all cruises through November 15th and was planning to put its three ships into “cold storage.”  An absolute minimum of ship employees would then be involved primarily just for fire-watch and security for the ships. It appears clear that Pullmantur is facing substantial financial troubles, as explained in the YouTube site,  due to the cease of operations caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (The Horizon reportedly had around 150 crew members who had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus).

The employees who contacted me suggest that a company intending  to transport and entertain passengers in the future would unlikely dismantle its ships like this.

Pullmantur is an offshoot of the Madrid-based travel agency Pullmantur. In 2006, Royal Caribbean purchased Pullmantur but later sold a 51% stake in the cruise line to a Spain-based investment firm. Given the current pandemic (and the fact that some news reports indicate that Spain has indefinitely suspended cruising from its ports), it is highly unlikely that Pullmantur could make a profit in the foreseeable future. Whether Pullmantur scraps its fleet or simply puts its ships in “cold storage” remains to be seen.

Customers have contacted our office indicating that Pullmantur is refusing to issue refunds for canceled cruises due to the pandemic. It reportedly is offering only future cruise credits, which will be come worthless if the company ceases operations.

June 22, 2020 Update: This morning, MarketWatch reported that “Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. RCL, -6.87% said its Spanish cruise line Pullmantur Cruceros joint venture with Cruises Investment Holding has filed for reorganization under terms of Spanish insolvency laws, citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Royal Caribbean’s stock fell 1.7% in premarket trading. Royal owned 49% of the JV, and Cruises Investment owned 51%. Pullmantur had canceled all sailings through November as a result of the pandemic. ‘Despite the great progress the Company made to achieve a turnaround in 2019 and its huge engagement and best efforts of its dedicated employees, the headwinds caused by the pandemic are too strong for Pullmantur to overcome without a reorganization,’ Pullmantur’s board of directors said in a statement.”

It also appears that Royal Caribbean may offer Pullmantur customers vouchers for the canceled cruises.

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Photo credit: Top – Monarch – By Roel van Deursen – Spijkenisse / Nissewaard  CC BY 2.0, commons / wikimedia; Monarch and Sovereign in port of Naples – via Facebook page of Captain Ivo Joni Botica (who was not interviewed for this article).

A crew member on the Island Princess died on Wednesday  according to several crew members wishing to remain anonymous.  The crew member’s name is Candido Catambay. There are no facts publicly available regarding the precise circumstances of the crew member’s death.

It appears that the Island Princess is one of many Carnival Corporation-owned cruise ships which are in the process of finally repatriating crew members home.  This particular crew member appears to have been on the cruise ship for a minimun of at least the past 90 days.

One crew member who informed me of the death stated: “Princess says it’s ‘natural causes,’ but what is natural when you have been kept on board the ship away from home for such a long time and your physical and mental health is damaged day after day.”

The Island Princess is currently anchored off the coast of the Philippines near Manila. There are currently twenty-five  cruise ships, including eleven Carnival Corporation-owned ships which are operated by Princess Cruises, positioned near Manila with many thousands of crew members aboard. In addition to the Island Princess, there are ten other cruise ships operated by Princess Cruises near Manila at this time: the Pacific Princess, Regal Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sea Princess, Majestic Princess, Sun Princess, Diamond Princess, Golden Princess, Crown Princess, and Ruby Princess. 

The Island Princess last sailed from south Florida on April 20th and eventually reached the Philippines earlier this month. Carnival avoided the CDC’s guidelines which would have required the company to fly its crew members via charter flights home by sailing them on a dozens ships to the Philippines. Carnival saved money but subjected the crew to additional stress by keeping them on the ships away from their families.

Princess Cruises declined to respond to our request for an explanation regarding this latest crew member death.

Including this incident, there have been at least six to as many as ten other cases were it appears that crew members may have decided to end their own lives since April 30th, as well as one attempted suicide:

CMV galley cook on Vasco da Gama June 17, 2020. CMV claims that he died due to a heart attack.

Royal Caribbean waiter on Harmony of the Seas June 9, 2020.

Crystal Cruises waiter June 2, 2020.

Virgin Yoyages hotel utility on Scarlet Lady May 22, 2020.

Cruise and Maritine Voyages provision manager attempted suicide on Vasco da Gama May 20, 2020 .

AIDA galley employee on AIDAblu May 18, 2020.

Royal Caribbean assistant waiter on Mariner of the Seas May 10, 2020.  Royal Caribbean stated that the crew member, a young man, reportedly died of “natural causes.”

Princess Cruises waiter on Regal Princess May 10, 2020.

Carnival Cruise assistant shore manager on Carnival Breeze May 9, 2020.

Royal Caribbean electrician on Jewel of the Seas April 30, 2020.

Four days ago, the Miami Herald reported that at least 42,000 crew members remain trapped on cruise ships without paychecks, and some still are suffering from COVID-19, three months after the industry shut down.

The reasons for the failure to repatriate the crew are a combination of the following developments: (1) the cruise lines delayed repatriation efforts after the CDC initially issued its “no sail” order on May 13th for only 30 days. The companies hoped to resume sailing as soon as possible and didn’t repatriate their crew members, intending to put them back to work. Then the companies claimed surprise when the CDC extended the no sail order until July 25th; (2) the CDC required cruise lines to repatriate crew only though private charters which most companies refused to do claiming its was “too expensive,” and the cruise CEO’s, chief compliance officers and chief medical officers refused to sign acknowledgments indicating that the companies intended to comply with the CDC guidelines; and (3) countries began closing borders to limit the spread of COVID-19.

These deaths should be a shameful embarrassment for the cruise lines which continues to withold literally billions of dollars in refunds to its customers. Yesterday, Jim Cramer of CNBC annnounced that Carnival Corporation had a record $4.4 billion loss in the second quarter of this year with $7.6 billion in available liquidity, including $2.9 billion in refunds owed to customers.

Carnival Corporation, like all cruise companies, has struggled to remain afloat following the coronavirus pandemic. It is using its customer’s refunds to try and remain viable. All of its brands, like Princess Cruises, have tried to minimize expenses incurred in promptly repatriating their crew members. Unfortunately, there will be additional crew deaths as a result of the cruise lines devoting their depleting liquidity to re-start their operations.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has initiated the “Enough is enough” campaign, in recognition of “thousands of seafarers worldwide remain stuck on board, unable to go ashore, seek medical attention or return home.”As of June 16th, it is no longer acceptable that seafarers are forced to continue to work on ships, according to the ITF.

The General Secretary of the IMO, Kitack Lim, has stated that the shipping industry is on the verge of “a humanitarian crisis,” with an increase in  “fatigue and issues with mental health.”

The ITF states: “We are clear – if a seafarer wants off a ship, then the ITF, our affiliate unions and the ITF inspectorate will do everything we can to assist them. We know that you need to get off these ships, and we will help you to do so where can.” Crew member can contact the ITF here.

The IIF has been criticized over the years for not responding to seafarers’ complaints. Nonetheless, we recommend that crew members contact the ITF as well as bring attention to their predicaments via social media and by contacting the media.

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A Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) crew member on the Vasco da Gama cruise ship in the U.K. died early this morning, according to several crew members who wish to remain anonyous.

The crew member was identified as Krishna Kumar Balaji who was employed by CMV as a “1st cook galley.” He reportedly died in the ship’s infirmary around 3:00 a.m. today.  CMV recently transferred Mr. Balaji to the Vasco da Gama because the MV Astoria, which is one of several cruise ships CMV operates, is scheduled to sail to Portugal to go into dry dock. (The Astoria and Vasco da Gama are both in Tilbury along with other ships operated by CMV).  The exact facts and circumstances of his death are less than clear at this point.  Comments posted on social media suggest that the crew member was depressed.

Indian crew members aboard the Astoria cruise ship began a hunger strike two days ago to protest being kept on the ship for more than 90 days since cruise operations were suspended. CMV arranged for transportation of some crew members but not for around 160 crew members back to India. CMV is claiming that the country of India has not granted landing permits for flights for the crew members back home. The crew members have requested that the Indian government and the Indian High Commission in London become involved. The issue, of course, is not just such governmental restrictions, which are affecting all cruise lines, but why the company has not obtained the necessary documentation to repatriate its crew members over the past 90 days.

Several images and videos of the hunger strike were posted on Twitter and Facebook this week. At least one photo of a crew member holding a sign states “Frustrated. What’s Next?!! Suicide?”

One of the most important reasons articulated for the crew’s frustration is that they are very worried about the fact that they have not been paid, many of whom have received no wages over the last five months. They have expressed concern for the inability to pay for their children’s education and medical expenses and loan obligations. The crew members have consistently stated that they appreciate what CMV is doing for them during the pandemic. One crew member stated: “we are CMV family who still support and love our company, at the same time we love our family back home.”

It's a call out to everyone Indian government UK Government as well the company authority & Agents everyone you'll better b quick coz we will get on one one clarifications.

Posted by Gina Pereira on Monday, June 15, 2020

CMV has responded to the issue of non-payment of wages by stating that it will remit wages with the sign-off of the crew but it has not committed to a firm sign-off date.  CEO Christian Verhounig referred to the company’s “massive cash requirements,” in an email sent to the striking crew members, which are involved in sending its crew members home while not collecting any money while cruising is suspended. The CEO further claimed that:

“… we are being hurt most, our costs for feeding all, offloading garbage, buying water for showers and toilets, offloading grey and black water, keeping the generators on for electricity and continuing to have you on employment and pay you salary would be much reduced and less of a burden for us.”

This email appears oblivious to the hardship caused by crew’s inability to send their wages back home to their families. Calling the crew a burden and comparing the payment of their wages to paying the costs of unloading garbage and sewage seems  particularly unsympathetic and callous.

The crew members’ fears and concerns come at a time when CMV is experiencing significant financial problems. Sky News reports that CMV is in emergency talks with lenders and potential investors following the eleventh-hour collapse of a potential financial rescue deal.  This newspaper in the U.K. reports that a private equity firm had been trying to structure a deal for several weeks with CMV’s existing creditors but talks were abandoned this week. A travel publication, Travel Weekly, quotes CEO Verhounig saying: “As the majority of other cruise lines have already done or are presently doing, CMV is also looking for additional financing to improve its liquidity position until sailing will resume again.”

This has been a very difficult six week period for many crew members who have remained on cruise ships during the period of cruising suspension which is now over 90 days. In addition to this incident, since May 1st there have been nine other crew members who reportedly ended their lives and one employee from this same cruise ship, Vasca da Gama, who attempted to do so.

A week ago, a Royal Caribbean waiter ended her life on the Harmony of the Seas. A newspaper in Barbados reported that she comitted suicide by hanging. A week earlier, a long term employee from the Philippines died suddenly on a Crystal Cruises ship. Three weeks ago, a Filipino crew member died on the Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady. Shortly before that, a CMV crew member on the Vasco da Gamma cruise ship reportedly jumped from deck 12 of the ship and landed on a cargo container located on the pier of the Tilbury Docks in the U.K (photo left). It was last reported that the Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) ship employee is in the hospital in London. A Filipino galley employee on the AIDAblu also died. A Chinese crew member hired as an assistant waiter on the Mariner of the Seas  was found dead by his colleagues. Royal Caribbean stated that the crew member, a young man, reportedly died of “natural causes,” although it did not release an official cause of his death or provide any explanation. On that same day, a Ukranian waiter from the Regal Princess jumped overboard while the ship was in Rotterdam. The day before, an assistant shore excursion manager died on the Carnival Breeze which was sailing to the U.K. from Bahamian waters. A post mortem report by a pathologist states the preliminary cause of death as hanging, according to a publication in the U.K.  The first suicide involved a Polish electrician on the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas jumped from the ship south of Athens around the first of last month.

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June 18, 2020 Update: 

CMV apparently claims that the crew member died due to a “heart attack” via the post below. There still is no public statement regarding CMV’s non-payment of crew wages dating back 5-8 months or the issue of finally repatriating the crew members at issue.

Photograph credits: Anonymous

 

A Royal Caribbean ship employee died earlier today on the Harmony of the Seas, according to several crew members who wish to remain anonymous.

Crew member Mariah Jocson, who was described as a “new hire,” was reportedly found in her cabin this afternoon. There was an “Alpha, Alpha, Alpha” medical emergency broadcast on the ship’s PA system.  Later, the captain publicly announced that the crew member had died. Her family reportedly have been notified. There was no official announcement or explanation regarding her cause of death.

She was from Mandaluyong, Philippines.

The Harmony of the Seas is currently in Barbados with around 2,000 crew members still aboard waiting to be returned home, including many crew members who transferred from the Vision of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, and Rhapsody of the Seas. She reportedly previously was on the Rhapsody.

The Royal Caribbean “Crew Repatriation Weekly Update” dated June 5, 2020 lists over twenty flights from Barbados to the Philippines in the next three weeks through June 30th.

This has been a difficult six weeks for many crew members who have remained on cruise ships during the period of cruising suspension which is now approaching 90 days. In addition to this incident, there have been eight other crew members who reportedly ended their lives and one employee who attempted to do so since May 1st.

A week ago, a long term employee from the Philippines died suddenly on a Crystal Cruises ship. Two weeks ago, a Filipino crew member died on the Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady. Shortly before that, a crew member on the Vasco da Gamma cruise ship reportedly jumped from deck 12 of the ship and landed on a cargo container located on the pier of the Tilbury Docks in the U.K. It was last reported that the Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) ship employee is in the hospital in London. A Filipino galley employee on the AIDAblu also died. A Chinese crew member hired as an assistant waiter on the Mariner of the Seas  was found dead by his colleagues. Royal Caribbean stated that the crew member, a young man, reportedly died of “natural causes,” although it did not release an official cause of his death or provide any explanation. On that same day, a Ukranian waiter from the Regal Princess jumped overboard while the ship was in Rotterdam. The day before, an assistant shore excursion manager died on the Carnival Breeze which was sailing to the U.K. from Bahamian waters. A post mortem report by a pathologist states the preliminary cause of death as hanging, according to a publication in the U.K.  The first suicide involved a Polish electrician on the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas jumped from the ship south of Athens around the first of last month.

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June 10, 2020 Update: A newspaper in Barbados reports that the “Barbados police confirm they are treating the death as a suicide and identify the victim as a 28-year-old assistant waitress.”

June 11, 2020: Crew Center reported that there was a prayer tribute by crew members of the Harmony of the Seas Tuesday evening for Ms. Jocson (photo right) who was hired as a waiter.

Photo credit: Top – Harmony of the Seas – By kees torn – UNION BEAR, CC BY-SA 2.0, commons / wikimedia; middleHarmony of the Seas in Barbados – middle – Nation News by Shanice King; bottom – Mariah Jocson – Facebook via Crew Center.

A long term employee of Crystal Cruises recently died, according to a Go Fund Me page created yesterday by one of the crew member’s friends.

Kiko Payongayong reportedly worked for Crystal Cruises as a waiter from 27 years. He was fifty years old at the time of his death. He left behind a wife and four children.

There is speculation regarding the crew member’s cause of death. Crystal Cruises has not made an official statement to date.

There have been at least six crew members who reportedly ended their lives since May 1st and one who attempted to do so. In addition, Royal Caribbean stated that one crew member on the Mariner of the Seas reportedly died of “natural causes,” although it did not release an official cause of death.

You can access the Go Fund Me page here.  The page states:

“Kiko Payongayong was a Crystal favorite. Kiko was with Crystal for 27 years and beloved of so many. With his infectious smile, Kiko was always so cheerful and shared his happiness with everybody he’d meet.  He will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.

This fund was created to help Kiko’s family. He leaves behind a wife and four children. 100% of the funds raised will go directly to his family. Please consider helping them in this time of great sorrow and need.”

Have a comment? Please leave a thought below or on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: Go Fund Me

 

Yesterday Breaking Travel News published an interview with Frank Del Rio, NCL’s president and CEO. He claimed that a cruise ship can be “safer than anywhere else in the world.”

On March 13th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a “no sail” order which prohibited cruise ships from sailing from U.S. ports for thirty days. The CDC extended the order for 45 days to July 24th. The CDC concluded that “cruise ship travel markedly increases the risk and impact of the COVID19 disease outbreak in the United States.” The CDC further found that cruising “exacerbates the global spread of COVID19” and that the cruise industry failed to control the spread of the disease sufficiently, causing an unnecessary burden on the already over-burdened local, state and national healthcare systems.  You can read the CDC’s latest finding here.

What is most important for the cruise industry to survive, short of a vaccine, is for cruise lines to focus on adopting serious policies and procedures to safeguard the public and their ship employees’ health and safety.

Where Are the Cruise Industry’s Health and Safety Protocols?

Del Rio mentioned that the  cruise industry at large is “developing protocols.” However, the CEO did not mention any new policies or procedures to protect its guests and crew members from COVID-19. Nor did he announce that his brands have created any new protocols.  This is typical of the cruise industry which is ramping up to re-start cruising before announcing new safeguards.

Putting aside the issue of whether temperature checks, medical questionnaries, enhanced cleaning, social distancing and masks will ever be enough to stop the introduction and spread of coronavirus, Del Rio made no mention of NCL’s plans for when COVID-19 inevitably appears on a NCL cruise ship. In particular, he did not address how to avoid the cruise lines’ mistakes in the past where local governments were saddled with the costs and responsibility of caring for sick passengers and crew.

Immediately Stop All Cruise Bans?

CEO Del Rio characterized the government as an “obstacle” to cruising. He claimed that as soon as governments lift travel bans and open up ports, “the consumer will be there.”

Del Rio argued that government authorities have to “immediately stop” travel restrictions which are allegedly causing “great harm”on a “permanent basis to economies.” He said that “reality is now setting in” and “the general strokes painted by authority have to stop.”

If this rhetoric sounds familar, it is essentially what the current administration is telling the American public: The nearly 1,700,000 infected U.S. citizens and 100,000 dead are not as important as COVID-19’s effect on the economy. In this regard, Del Rio  personally collected over $85,000,000 in the last five years. NCL collected revenues of $6,500,000,000 and netted over $930,000,000. It also cannot go without noting that the cruise industry has a tremendous advantage over shore-side resorts, hotels and restaurants by incorporating in foreign countries and registering its ships in foreign countries like Panama and the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. income taxes, U.S. wage and labor laws, and U.S. occupational health and safety laws.

A Rush to Cruising As Normal?

Remarkably Del Rio stated that “people are rushing to bars and restaurants as they reopen, they want to get back to their normal lives, and cruising is a part of their normal lives.” Del Rio seems to believe that disregarding the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing and the wearing of masks is a good thing rather than a major problem that needs to be discouraged.  Images of people crowded tightly together without masks in the Lake of the Ozarks water park this past Memorial Day weekend have circulated widely on social media.

Ironically, NCL permitted its crew members to crowd together without masks during several parties earlier this month on the Norwegian Escape (above right) and Norwegian Epic (left) at the port of Miami. In an article titled “Ridiculously Overcrowded” Norwegian Escape Sails to Miami, we noted that after NCL assembled employees from several different NCL ships aboard the Norwegian Escape which sailed to Miami, the cruise line scheduled a series of parties on the pool decks of several of its ships. It made no effort to enforce social distancing or the wearing of masks.

Hundreds of NCL crew members openly mingled and crowded around bars on the pool deck of the NCL ship without masks. (We also posted a video of a crowded pool party in our article Norwegian Epic – the Latest NCL Cruise Ship to Ignore the CDC’s Social Distancing Rule). This was reckless and a clear violation of the CDC’s guidelines.

The CDC Will Likely Continue its No Sail Order

It is unlikely that the CDC will suspend its “no sail” order before the current deadline of July 24, which NCL and the other cruise lines seem to have finally acknowledged by stating that they will not restart operation until August at the earliest. It appears likely, in my opinion, that the CDC will extend the order for at least 30-45 days with a new sail date of not before September 1st.

But when the CDC gives a green light to the cruise lines to sail again, there is no question that it will begin on the CDC’s terms. The agency’s mission statement is the protection of human life and the prevention of the further “introduction, transmission and spread” of COVID-19 spread in the U.S. Treating the CDC as an “obstacle” and demanding that it “immediately stop” travel restrictions for the protection of the economy is inconsistent with the CDC’s mission of protecting the public’s health. It is likely to cause the CDC, and the governments of the port countries, to rightfully view the cruise industry with increased concern and suspicion.

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We suggest reading: Leaked Emails: Norwegian Pressures Sales Team to Mislead Potential Customers About Coronavirus by Miami New Times March 11, 2020.

Photo credit: Frank Del Rio – Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images and Storify; NCL cruise ships – anonymous crew members.