Nightmare at Sea Due to Coronavirus Pandemic Ends in Death for Some Cruise Ship Workers

Lauren Carrick and fiance Joe Harrison haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. The two dancers on Celebrity Cruises’ Infinity say being held aboard ships for almost two months has left them emotionally drained.

“I cried all day,” said Carrick, 29. “We need to have alcohol to sleep — that’s how bad it is. We’re worried, tense, stressed out. We just want to get home.”

Carrick and Harrison are among the more than 90,000 cruise workers in U.S. waters stranded on ships two months after the coronavirus pandemic began forcing cruise lines to halt operations and repatriate crew. While companies work through a thicket of shifting rules on returning workers to their home countries, recent deaths of crew have shook the industry and underscored concern about mental health.

“It’s a very stressful situation,” said Fabrizio Barcellona, assistant secretary for seafarers at the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents local unions. “The prolonged periods they have to stay on board can create a situation of unrest. People can become distressed and that can create flash points.”

Carnival Corp.’s Princess Cruises said Sunday a 39-year-old crew member from Ukraine was killed after leaping off its Regal Princess in the port of Rotterdam. The ship’s crew was in the process of being repatriated, the company said in an emailed statement.

Another worker was found dead in his cabin on the Carnival Breeze, unrelated to Covid-19, the company said. Carnival, the world’s largest operator, said it was not providing details of the death out of respect for the worker’s family.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the No. 2 line and owner of Celebrity Cruises, said a crew member went overboard from its Jewel of the Seas about two weeks ago.

‘Suicidal’ Messages

Crew members have said the reported deaths have rattled them and dampened morale, said Krista Thomas, a former Norwegian Cruise Line guest manager who’s operating two Facebook pages for stranded crew and their families. In recent days, several workers have told her in direct messages that they are suicidal, she said.

“Many of these people have been isolated in their small cabins for 21 hours a day and they’re breaking down from the loneliness and stress,” said Thomas, who operates the pages from Vancouver. “Many have been told to pack quickly to leave, and then their charter flights get canceled. Those highs and lows are taking their toll.”

The cruise-line operators say government policy changes and travel restrictions have complicated efforts to get crew home. More than 124 cruise ships — with 94,600 workers aboard — are underway or at anchor in U.S. waters, the Coast Guard said Monday.

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SOURCE: Bloomberg, K. Oanh Ha and Jonathan Levin