A set of new protocols for seafarers by the Swiss-based MSC Cruises that restricts ‘shore leave’ for the members has resulted in negative reactions by the past and current crew, stating that a decision like this “would really be unbearable”.
Crew members usually work for about 11 hours on a daily shift and seek respite during shore leaves where they relax at the port seafarer centers, access free wi-fi, buy toiletries and visit local areas. However, the new list titled “Life onboard during COVID-19” includes a ban on all of these unless in case of emergencies during phases restart.
For a lot of stranded seafarers, the condition is currently a reality as crew members are prohibited from disembarking owing to complex international regulations on repatriation and/or expensive travel alternatives that shipping companies find hard to abide by.
In the US, cruises are banned until the 30th of September.
Two international workplace protection organizations for seafarers, The Maritime Labor Convention, 2006 as well as the International Transport Workers Federation, have not provided a comment. However, as per the MLC, workers are to be allowed shore leave.
MSC Cruises has not yet resumed operations and will only do so when the time is right and approval has been received by the local health authorities and the CDC to begin enforcing their new safety protocol. Being the 4th largest cruise company in the world, it continues to pay its non-working crew still at sea, just like other major cruises.
4 months ago, the CDC restricted shore leave due to the outbreak of the virus and has still not opened up due to a daily surge in cases. Recently, virus outbreaks were reported in 5 cruise ships, proving that “it is difficult to eliminate COVID-19 from cruise ships, even with ni passengers and a reduced number of crew on board”, said a CDC spokesperson.
The list restricting movement, in addition to the fear of COVID-19 has only made it harder for seafarers considering to rejoin their jobs. Lesley Warrick, executive director of the Seafarer’s House at Port Everglades as termed the protocol as “inhumane”.
While other companies, like the Royal Caribbean, have still not determined their protocols, recruiting seafarers may turn out to be a hassle later on, if they follow suit. Carnival Corporation has stated the enforcement of “appropriate protocols” regarding shore leave when they begin operations.
Seafarers remain worried about the mental health implications of the protocol restrictions, stating that it could “cause anxiety, mood, and character changes”. Some seafarers have called this gruelling and have remained, just to support families while others are suffering due to the absence of payment for the last few months.
The seafarers also complain about the claustrophobic feelings of staying locked for months, and the lack of concern exhibited by the companies deciding to restart operations while members of the crew are still awaiting repatriation.