Thousands of Cruise Ship Workers Still Stranded at Sea

The coronavirus hit the cruise industry particularly hard, both from a financial standpoint and public relations, as numerous ships suffered an outbreak when the pandemic started its global crawl back in February.

Cruising has been at a virtual standstill since, with most lines suspending operations until Nov. 1.

But the hardest-hit part of the industry might be its workers.

Some 12,000 crew members still remain on cruise ships in U.S. waters, some of whom have been stranded since March and many of whom have not set foot on land in months.

Akash Dookhun, a Celebrity Cruises crew member from Mauritius, has not set foot on dry land since he was on a port call in New Zealand in early March. And he doesn’t know when he’ll stand on solid ground again.

“The more time passes by and the more (stressful) it gets,” he told USA TODAY.

As of Tuesday, nearly five months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the cruise industry, more than 12,000 crew members remained on ships in U.S. waters, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. That’s down from more than 70,000 in May, the newspaper noted.

The Coast Guard “is tracking 57 cruise ships moored, at anchor, or underway in vicinity of a U.S. port, or with potential to arrive in a U.S. port, with approximately 12,084 crew members,” Brittany Panetta, a lieutenant commander and spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard, told USA TODAY.

The Coast Guard says that number includes an estimated 209 Americans who are spread out among 37 of the ships. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as of Wednesday that the agency knew of 53 U.S. crew members on 22 cruise ships in U.S. waters.

Cruise ships always require at least “minimum manning” for upkeep and to maintain basic onboard operations even when in port.

Cruise industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) disagreed with the 12,000 figure.

“Our best estimate of the number of seafarers on cruise ships still awaiting repatriation is approximately 5,000, based on a survey of our major cruise line members,” Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director of strategic communications for CLIA, told USA TODAY.

The problem is that some workers can’t simply be ‘dropped off’ at their home ports, and they having difficulties being repatriated by airline travel, both due to various government travel restrictions.

“The feeling of being abandoned and neglected by our own country is very harsh on us,” Dookhun said.

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