Tens Of Thousands Of Crew Members Have Been Stuck On Cruise Ships for Months

Many of the crew members’ home countries have shut down borders and ports, leaving them stuck on the boat until further notice.

The Ruby Princess cruise ship enters Manila Bay, Philippines on May 7. Getty Images.

More than 100,000 crew members have been stuck on cruise ships that employ them since the spread of the coronavirus forced cruise lines to suspend operations, according to multiple reports. 

Some crew members have remained on the ships for more than two months after cruises were forced to shut down in March when the CDC issued its “No Sail Order.” A Miami Herald investigation published Sunday cites border and port closures as the reason many employees cannot go home. 

The U.S. Coast Guard said in early April that it helped more than 250,000 passengers exit ships amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But the USCG estimated that more than 93,000 crew members remained onboard ships in and around U.S. waters. 

The Guardian reported in late April that at least 50 cruise ships with stranded crew members had a coronavirus outbreak. The report estimates tens of thousands more remained on ships outside of the U.S. 

According to data collected by The Herald, more than 2,700 cases of coronavirus have been linked to cruise ships, including at least 76 deaths, as of May 8. (The report notes that the data likely represents an undercount). The Herald also reported that at least two employees on separate cruises died after jumping overboard. 

Taylor Grimes, a cruise ship worker from Florida, told CNN on Monday that he has been stuck on an MSC Cruise ship docked in Italy for more than 60 days after testing positive for coronavirus in early April. 

“We are very concerned about his mental health,” his mother, Ann Grimes, told CNN. “Last Monday he was sobbing on the phone, saying he wanted to go home.” 

According to the Herald, many workers onboard the cruise ships are no longer being paid. Workers from several cruise companies have been sent home, including:

  • Carnival Corporation: 37% of crew sent home
  • Disney Cruise Line: 33% of crew sent home
  • MSC Cruises: 76% of crew sent home
  • Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line: Approximately 100 people sent home 
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises: Declined to comment but The Herald estimates 23% have been sent home

Both the Herald and The Guardian reported that some workers have stayed in small or windowless cabin rooms—sometimes for multiple days — with little to no updates on when they could leave. An anonymous worker told The Guardian in April that crew members were no longer allowed to leave their rooms after another worker, who has since left the ship, tested positive for coronavirus. MSC Cruises said in a statement to The Guardian that employees have been moved to guest rooms and have had their meal offerings upgraded. 

“Our goal has been to repatriate our crew members as quickly as possible, but that has proven to be much more difficult in recent weeks because of port closures, country closures and global travel restrictions,” Roger Frizzell, Carnival Corp. spokesman, told the Herald. 

The Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan quarantined all 3,700 people on board after 10 coronavirus cases were reported in early February. More than 700 people onboard later tested positive, causing 13 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Passengers were sent home in late February, but Princess Cruises spokeswoman Negin Kamali recently told USA Today that 170 employees remain on the Diamond Princess ship as it makes its way to Malaysia, where the repatriation process for employees will continue.

In February, the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship was the largest outside of China.