Over this past weekend, several crew members on Royal Caribbean-owned cruise ships expressed their frustration at being kept from an unreasonaby long time onboard their ships. The cruise ships which they are on have not sailed for over six weeks, yet Royal Caribbean has not sent them home. There is considerable danger associated with staying on a ship where crew members have been tested positive for COVID-19.
Yesterday, I wrote about a Royal Caribbean crew member, a long term employee who worked the night shift in the incinerator room on the Oasis of the Seas, who died due to COVID-19. He is the third crew member to die on the Oasis in the last three weeks and the fourth Royal Caribbean crew member from a cruise ship right off the coast of Florida to die during this pandemic. None of these crew members, from Indonedia and the Philippines should have remained on the ships for so long. They ranked in ages from just 27 to 43 years old.
As pointed out by the Miami Herald, Royal Caribbean has been lying to its crew members for the past month, claiming that it is the fault of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that crew members are stuck at sea. The Herald first published an article last Thursday, stating that cruise lines refuse CDC terms to repatriate crew, calling transportation via aircharters to be “‘too expensive.” Later, the Miami Herald explained why crew members were being kept at sea. In an article, titled Royal Caribbean falsely blames CDC for keeping crew trapped on its ships, agency says, the Miami Herald stated that the actual reason was that the CEO’s refused to sign an acknowledgement that the company will comply with the CDC guidelines. Fearing potential criminal liability, the company decided against having its CEO’s or the chief compliance officers and chief medical officers sign the acknowledgement. Yesterday, the Miami Herald reported that “in an about face,” Royal Caribbean’s Michael Bayley and Celebrity Cruises’ Lisa Lutoff-Perlo announced they would sign the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s terms for disembarking crew.
Royal Caribbean’s change of position also comes after at least two crew members on Royal Caribbean-owned ships went to social media to make their complaints public.
A Celebrity crew member, Caio Saldauha, from Brazil live-streamed on Facebook, and stated that he feels like a prisoner on the Celebrity Infinity (he translates his comments in English as well). A major newspaper in Brazil covered his situation in an article titled Locked in a Cabin, You Lose Track of Day and Night.”
He stated during his live-stream that there are some crew members who wish to remain on the ship during the pandemic. He acknowledged that he is speaking from his perspective. Many crew members and cruise fans have openly critized him. There are some who refer to a popular cruise page on Facebook where people are praising Celebrity for taking care of their crew. Some people seem to think that a cruise line which provides free room and board should be praised.
A Celebrity crew member, Julia (Lindsey) Whitcomb, reached out to her mother and Congressman, as well as her friends on social media to help her leave the ship. Her story was published via Cosmopolitan. Last week, she live-streamed from the ship last Thursday (below) after the ship doctor and nurse offered her psychiatric care in Broward County as she was preparing to leave the ship.
Hey, guys. Just wanted to share an incident from yesterday that I found disturbing and disappointing.
Posted by Julia Lindsey on Thursday, April 30, 2020
This morning she was interviewed on CNN discussing crew members still on ships. She left her ship Thursday evening after it stopped carrying passengers over six weeks ago. She mentioned feeling optimistic today after the Royal Caribbean CEO and Celebrity CEO finally signed an acknowledgement that the cruise line will be responsible for complying with the CDC guidelnes.
She, too, is facing criticism from other “loyal-to-Royal” crew members who are levelling personal attacks and insults against her for speaking out. Some discount her feelings by calling her a “performer.” Other cruise fans attack the Brazilian crew member, calling him a “liar” and characterizing his cabin as a “room with a great view.” Some has even gone as far as to make death threats against him. You can wade through the nasty, personal attacks on our Facebook pages here and here.
Both Mr. Saldauha and Ms. Whitcomb worked on ships where there were reports of crew members positive for COVID-19.
Royal Caribbean has responded by sending a letter to all crew members stating the schedule for finally repatriating the crew members to their homes.
Repatriation of a seafarer is one of the most fundamental and non-delegable obligations of maritime law. It is a long standing doctrine which dates back hundreds of years ago to the Medieval Sea Codes. The obligation was adopted into U.S. maritime law over 150 years ago, based on the principle that crew members should not be stranded on a ship without pay, thousands of miles from their loved ones. There is no valid legal reason to keep any crew member at sea for over thirty days againt their will.
The reality is that modern day cruise lines run on a tight budget. It indeed is expensive to charter private flights for crew members. But there is no legal justification for an industry which makes literally billions of dollars in tax-free profits profits and whose CEO’s collect many tens of million of dollars a year to conclude that it is “too expensive” to charter a private charter for their ship employees. Crew members are legally entitled to special treatment when they work on a ship at sea. And they should be respected when they have been stuck at sea, particularly when there are crew members who have died, alone, in a hospital here in South Florida due to this company’s decision to leave them on a cruise ship during this pandemic, over a thousand miles from their family and loved ones.