The Ruby Princess has been in Manila Bay (above) since it sailed from Port Kembla in April.
The Ruby Princess has been in Manila Bay (above) since it sailed from Port Kembla in April.

Where stranded cruise ships are stuck

Thousands of cruise ship workers, including some Australians, are still trapped on ships unable to dock because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Many are no longer being paid, and the mental health of people still stuck at sea during the pandemic is reportedly declining as some cruise staff clock up more than 110 days afloat.

At least two cruise ship workers have died in apparent suicides since the industry shut down cruising on March 13.

The No Sail Order was extended on April 15 and hundreds of thousands of seafarers are also stuck on board cargo ships.

Citing the strained mental health of people still stuck at sea during the pandemic, the United Nations has called on countries around the world to lift their travel restrictions for seafarers.

A Ukrainian woman who was a crew member on the Regal Princess died in the Netherlands on May 9, with Rotterdam police ruling her death a suicide.

A Polish man working aboard Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas went overboard in early May, and his body has not been found.

Many cruise companies hire the bulk of their workers from Indonesia, the Philippines and India, with Australians working in specialist jobs such as shipboard entertainers.

Cruise ships including the Ruby Princess currently anchored in Manila Bay in the Philippines. Picture: Cruise ship tracker
Cruise ships including the Ruby Princess currently anchored in Manila Bay in the Philippines. Picture: Cruise ship tracker

Dozens of Australian entertainers on Royal Caribbean cruises were allowed home in late May after being stuck off the Florida coast since March and waiting for a flight home to eventuate, via Barbados.

Only Barbados has allowed for crew repatriation flights from its airports which has allowed thousands to return home to countries all over the world.

But an unknown number of Australians still remain on ships.

Dozens of cruise ships sail up an down an area of ocean off between Florida and the Bahamas, coming in to Florida ports to refuel and restock.

Manila Bay in the Philippines has became the world's biggest "parking lot" for cruise ships, with thousands of crew still on board.

The infamous Ruby Princess is currently anchored there after sailing from Port Kembla in late April.

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Its sister ship, the Diamond Princess, which was docked at Yokohama in Japan with coronavirus-infected passengers and crew on board is anchored nearby.

In early April, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prohibited anyone disembarking from a cruise ship from travelling on domestic or public transport.

Since then, Australian cruise ship staff and their families have been liaising with cruise ship companies and the Department of Foreign Affairs to bring them home.

The industry's March 13 shut down was just a day before the Ruby Princess docked in New Zealand on its last voyage with passengers displaying virus symptoms getting swabbed for COVID-19.

It was early on the morning of March 19 that the ship arrived back in Sydney, all 2700 passengers were allowed to disembark, and 22 of them subsequently died from COVID-19.

Countries began turning away ships suffering outbreaks.

Vessels in the stretch of sea between the coast of Florida and the Bahamas. Picture: Cruise Ship Tracker
Vessels in the stretch of sea between the coast of Florida and the Bahamas. Picture: Cruise Ship Tracker

 

Now as more countries loosen COVID-19 travel restrictions, crew members are making their way home.

But the health systems of countries with nil or very low new virus infections are having to grapple with returning cruise ship workers who are testing positive for COVID-19.

Around 3000 Carnival Cruise Line workers touched down in Croatia in early June to make their way home throughout Europe.

Cruise ship company MSC, which owns the Fantasia class ships, flew more than 1000 crew members home to India on charter flights from Europe and South America.

Also last month, Royal Caribbean flew more than 1200 Philippines crew members home from Greece, Dubai, the United States and Barbados.

But some countries have refused point blank to have their countrymen repatriated off cruise ships, meaning Mauritians are trapped on board - unpaid - as their liners sail around the world dropping off workers, buy bypassing Mauritius.

Cruise companies claim cruises will resume in August, as the US sail ban expires on July 24, but that could be reviewed.

One of the worst aspects of being stranded at seas, cruise ship workers, say is the lack of information about their immediate future.

After returning from his Royal Caribbean cruise sojourn as an entertainer, Zak Love told the ABC nearly three months at sea was made tougher because it felt like he was stuck indefinitely.

"When you're isolated on a ship and all the resources are cut off, you're stuck in a room, it may as well be a white-padded room," he said.

Some workers were forced to transfer three times to different ships as the company negotiated their repatriation back to Australia.

candace.sutton@news.com.au

Originally published as Where stranded cruise ships are stuck

The Ruby Princess has been in Manila Bay (above) since it sailed from Port Kembla in April.
The Ruby Princess has been in Manila Bay (above) since it sailed from Port Kembla in April.


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