Roughly three months have passed since lockdown restrictions were imposed worldwide, putting approximately 100,000 seafarers employed in the cruise ship industry to be stuck onboard ships. After a series of chartered flights and voyages by entire cruise lines across hundreds of nautical miles, the number has been brought to 40,000. Most of these seafarers onboard have stopped receiving payment after mid-April.
Majority of the countries had closed their seaports and restricted air travel as an aftermath of the COVID outbreak. As a result, cruise lines resorted to deploying their cruises for the sake of crew repatriation. With Filipinos accounting for a vast majority of those employed in the cruise industry, around 20 cruise ships gathered in Manila Bay last month, kickstarting the 14-day quarantine on ships that government authorities had mentioned as a required field for crew sign-offs.
Till date, three deaths due to suicides have been reported in the cruise industry since the onset of the lockdown on cruising since March 13th. With the mental health of those stuck at sea in tatters, the UN has asked nations to open its airports for crew repatriation.
Mauritius, a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean has been closed to seafarers waiting to be repatriated. With governments asking cruise companies to pay $1,300 for each seafarer, including offshore quarantine charges.
The USA has also restricted crew signoffs to private transportations. They asked cruise companies to consult their flag states for medical aid.
Bahamas, Liberia and Panama remain the most sought after ”Flags of Convenience’ hosted by cruise lines due to their environmental and labour laws. All big cruise companies- Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines are headquartered in Miami but bear flags of Caribbean countries.
Experts have been vocal of the fact that the repatriation crisis of seafarers in the cruise industry escalated rapidly because these companies registered themselves to flag states which have little infrastructure to carry out such large scale evacuation of crew members. Some even went to say that if even a few of the ships had been registered in the US, the government would have left no stone unturned to ease the crisis.