A Celebrity Cruises officer reportedly ended his life on the Celebrity Millennium, according to an article published yesterday by the Crew Center website.

On December 6th, Anton Ilichev, a young officer from Ukraine, was reportedly found hanging dead in his cabin’s bathroom, according to the article.

Crew Center states that Mr. Ilichev was working as a suite manager and had worked for Celebrity for several contracts. The Celebrity cruise ship was on a 14 Night Southeast Asia Cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore when this incident occurred. His current contract was about to end and he was scheduled to disembark in Singapore on vacation.

Crew Center expressed condolences to Mr. Ilichev’s family, friends and his fellow crew members. By all accounts, Mr. Ilichev was a popular and well liked crew member. Friends and his co-employees expressed similar sentiments on Facebook.

Several crew members raised concerns that there is an absence of resources for mental health support and counseling for employees on cruise ships, commenting:

“There is no mental support whatsoever in such a difficult environment! Don’t you dare ask the doctor for a day off for simply being mentally exhausted, they’ll tell you that you are free to sign off. Crew members should have the chance for therapy/counceling onboard and should be encouraged to attend! But crew members sadly will always, always be just numbers. 😰 Condolences to his family.”

As I mentioned in an article titled Misery Machines and Crew Member Suicides, anyone who follows the cruise industry knows that suicides of crew members are hardly rare.

A 22-year-old Serbian crew member, Nikola Arnautovic, on the Carnival Fascination, hung himself four months ago. A petition was started on Change.org – Save lives! Make psychologists compulsory for Carnival Cruise workers and 1 day off a week.

A British chef was found hanging in his cabin aboard the Crystal Serenity cruise ship several years ago.  Two weeks earlier, a safety officer on the Disney Dream ended his life in a similar manner. And the day before that, a woman in Carnival’s entertainment department was found hanging in an officer’s quarters on the Carnival Sensation.

An Indian dishwasher on the Costa Magica was found hanging in his cabin in February 2017. A galley worker also killed himself a few years earlier on the Island Princess by hanging.

Of course, most crew members do not end their lives by hanging themselves. Most ship employees who choose to end their lives do so by jumping overboard.  During a period of less than three years between December 2009 and October 2012, at least twelve crew members jumped overboard or simply disappeared from cruise ships operated by Royal Caribbean/Celebrity Cruises. I wrote about the problem in an article titled “Is Royal Caribbean Working Its Crew Members to Death?”  The grueling schedule and long hours crew members are required to work 7 days a week, 30 days a month with no days off over the course of a 6 to 10 month contract, for far less than the U.S. minimum wage, often leave ship employees, who are already isolated from their families, exhausted and demoralized.

In the past decade, many dozens of crew members have jumped into the sea. The common reaction by guests is pointlessly “you can’t fall from a cruise ship” as if casting blame on the dead crew member will somehow solve the problem.

Mental health services for cruise ship employees are non-existent. And the  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 receive is more than the workers can receive back home. “If they don’t like the work, they can quit” is the common saying.

It is unknown exactly what work conditions Mr. Ilichev faced on the Celebrity ship or what he experienced in his personal life. Crew Center raised the issue of providing services for mental health of crew members in Why aren’t there psychologists on board cruise ships?  Cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises, invest many hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars on building increasingly huge cruise ships each year. They need to begin investing in their crew member’s well being at sea.

Please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

December 11, 2018 Update: Newsweek covers the story – Cruise Ship Crew Member Takes Own Life During Last Voyage with Company.

Photo credit: Facebook

Last week, I reported on a Filipino crew member who apparently jumped off of the Grand Princess cruise ship after it left San Francisco. The 34 year old man was the fifth person to go overboard in the last 18 days. 

Although Princess did not notify the Coast Guard until approximately two hours after the crew member went overboard, it was quick to tell the press that the crew member intentionally jumped.  "Not our fault" seems to be the attitude.  Put the "suicide" label on the case and forget about it, seems to be the cruise line’s usual response.

Putting the issue of legal blame aside for the moment, could the crew member’s death have been avoided? Are there systems in place to provide counseling for crew members under stress?

Over the last year I have written about cruise lines overworking and underpaying their shipboard employees. I have discussed Princess working their employees to the bone. I’ve discussed the policies of parent company Carnival reducing pay, diverting the crew member’s tips, suspending their retirement programs, and firing employees when they protest. There is only so much that anyone can take, working every single day far away from their families during a 8 month contract.

Is there a correlation between this more difficult work environment and an increased sense of hopelessness of the crew members who the cruise lines easily replace when they crack and jump?    

When a cruise line quickly explains that a crew member intentionally went overboard, it’s not really an explanation. It seems to raise more questions than provide answers.  

In response to our article about the Princess crew member lost at sea, I received this message from a reader: 

"I was on the prior cruise to Hawaii for Christmas and New Years. This was my wife and my 7th cruise. But to me, this was an unhappy ship. The employees were not happy, and many passengers were also not happy. The workers had a palpable fear of their bosses. They were afraid to allow anyone to make a decision without consult from their supervisor. I mean, things like, I want a different table. The host would feel the need to ask their supervisor.

To me, this is not a surprise. I feel it is the industry’s dirty little secret. The wage scale and treatment of replaceable employees. This will be my family’s last cruise."

 

Photo Credit: Hakilon / Wikipedia

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 Missing Royal Caribbean Crew Membersworking 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.  

Photograph: 24ORA.com

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."