This morning I received an email from a crew member on a cruise ship. name and locations have been removed, for reasons that will become obvious later on. Below is Edited, but entirely her words.
I am looking to share my ongoing story of being held captive on a ship during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is currently my Day 79 at sea, and Day 27 past the expiry of my contract as an expedition crew member onboard.
I have 11 years of experience … This year, I signed up to work onboard a cruise ship as a kayak guide and zodiac driver and quickly found a contract with <cruise company> onboard the <Cruise ship>. I embarked on January 28th in <city> with the intention of finishing my first contract onboard on March 20th in <end point>.
We were lucky; we never had the virus onboard. When we arrived early in <end point> on the 18th of March, borders were still open. We were told that the company policy was always to allow “passengers first” and we would be obligated to wait until the very last passenger had disembarked before we would be considered for disembarkation. After that last passenger had left, the <end point> Government closed its port for all crew changes and we were told we would be staying onboard indefinitely. On March 24th, we were told the company was intending to reposition its ship, and with the excess crew including myself still onboard and we set sail towards <Mediterranean Port>, despite many ports in Africa and South America remaining open for crew changes.
Somewhere south of the Equator the company changed their minds and ordered the Captain to change course towards the ______ Islands, where we were expected to arrive on April 15th. We were guaranteed flights home from there, as long as we singed new contracts that slashed our pay. We were threatened by our supervisors that if we did not sign the new contracts, we would be terminated and not repatriated back to our home countries. Those contracts expire today, with our pay now reduced to 0% of our original rates.
This morning, we were informed by the Captain that we would be arriving in the ______ Islands, but there would be no flights waiting for us from there; the company deemed the cost of chartering a flight to take us off the islands to be too high. Instead, we would be embarking 250 new crew members from the company’s sister ships (<ship 1 and <Ship 2>) and setting sail again for <Northern European Country>. The <ship 1> has had confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard, and we are now to embark their crew onto our vessel and spend a further two weeks sailing towards the <Northern European Country> at full capacity. We were told the decision was made in the best financial interests of the company. As crew members, we are independent contractors and not employees of this company. We are also not being paid while onboard, though we are still expected to carry out our crew duties.
We have been told we have no choice in the matter, and we are not going willingly. We have been threatened that if details of this situation gets to the media, our internet onboard will be shut off. The situation onboard is becoming dire. We are terrified at the idea of having 450 individuals crammed onto a cruise ship for a minimum of two weeks. We are terrified of the idea of experiencing an outbreak, with only one doctor and one nurse and a small first aid room onboard. We are terrified of being turned away from all future ports, and we are terrified of not being able to be back home with our families during these trying times. We are all being held captive onboard as this company exercises every opportunity to practice financial austerity over the best interests of the human beings that are still onboard.
We have wanted nothing but to disembark this ship since the 18th of March. We were told the best we could expect is to be allowed to disembark by the 1st of May.
I am sharing my story in hopes that the company has a chance to comment on their actions and the decisions that they have made with our lives in the greater public sphere. I hope that Canadians become aware that there are still many citizens aboard that are still trying to make it back home, but are physically unable to do so.
I have refereed the situation to the ITF – the International Transport Workers federation. the actions of the Cruise company are in violation of the Maritime Labour Convention.
The Author of the email is a Canadian, and the Ship has called on Halifax in the past.