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Real life: Stuck onboard during a global pandemic

13 July 2020

Despite efforts by national governments to designate seafarers as key workers and exempt them from Covid travel restrictions, hundreds of thousands remain stuck at sea beyond their contracts in deteriorating conditions. Nautilus hears from one cruise company employee who says employers need to be reminded of their obligations to seafarers under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC)

Mark* is an Electrical-Technical Officer (ETO) onboard a cruise vessel, currently sailing in the southern hemisphere. He has been at sea for over six months with no end date in sight with a voyage length that has been extended considerably due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

His ship was anchored offshore for many weeks after disembarkation of passengers awaiting crew changes. During this time, the ship and its crew was subjected a never-ending tide of bureaucracy from local and government authorities that thwarted attempts to get tired crew home. 

'Not only were our tenders incurring a charge of $3,000 each time they were used to transfer crew and stores but we were also subjected to the bogus C9 visa rule, which took weeks to process only to find that the visas were not recognised in certain other provinces where flights were landing and this then caused further delay,' Mark explains.

The ship owner decided that as access to international flights was unreliable the best way to get crew home was to sail to their home countries one by one.

That's when things took a turn for the worse for Mark. He transferred to his vessel from another cruise ship and was forced to quarantine onboard by local authorities despite coming from a Covid-free vessel. He had not been in contact with anyone off that ship for at least three months.

'We were not given any prior advice that we would be quarantined when arriving onboard and consequently it was all a bit of a shock considering the protective bubbles that we had all left behind,' he says.

Crew on the new ship clearly had not planned for a sudden influx of seafarers from many different ships and it was operating at minimum manning. The staff had just two days' notice of the new arrangements.

'Under the circumstances the crew have stepped up and done a good job but there is a lack of basic provisions including laundry and this is starting to cause bad feelings,' Mark says.  

'We have no bottled water available and the food can only be described as worse than prison rations with no healthy options. The choice is Asian or International and I have seen the same mix of highly glutinous, cholesterol loaded slop for three days.'

Mark is concerned of the toll this is having on fellow crew members and says responsibility rests with shoreside management who need to be reminded of their commitment under Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) rules.

'I realise these are very testing times, but I get frustrated by the lack of planning, we now do not meet even MLC minimum requirements for food quality and water supply,' he says.

*Not his real name

Members experiencing similar conditions at sea and in need of emergency assistance can contact the Nautilus 247 helpline or contact a lawyer in our Worldwide Lawyers Directory in the country you are in. You can also contact the JASON advice and assistance scheme (the Nautilus Federation’s Joint Assistance & Support Network), run in partnership with Nautilus Federation unions. 



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