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.
Time and again we have been telling you'll get them Asap back due to depression dis boy passed away how many more suicide and death are you'll waiting for once again final warning get our boys back @goacm @CMOMaharashtra @Seafarers_UK @CMVoyages pic.twitter.com/6tECjSTAi2
— Gina (@Gina_pereira08) June 17, 2020
Time and again we have been telling you'll get them Asap back due to depression dis boy passed away how many more suicide and death are you'll waiting for once again final warning get our boys back @AmphibianManoj @DrSJaishankar @mahamaritime1 @AbhijeetDSangl1 @HardeepSPuri pic.twitter.com/4fabYkqBxe
— Gina (@Gina_pereira08) June 17, 2020
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.
.@CMVoyages statement on crew member's death: 'In the early hours of Wednesday, June 17, a crew member on board the Vasco da Gama at London Tilbury passed away following a heart attack. CMV’s thoughts and prayers are with the crew member’s family at this sad time.'
— Dave Monk (@shipmonk) June 18, 2020
Photograph credits: Anonymous