The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is allowing crew members to disembark from cruise ships in US waters and return home if cruise lines submit a signed attestation on “safe disembarkation”. However, reports say cruise company officials refuse to do so, claiming high costs of private transportation for disembarking crew.
On 23 April, CDC shared information with all cruise lines in US waters, to help crew members return home safely.
Since then, several cruise lines, including Virgin Voyages, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and others, have disembarked crew through this process.
In particular, by signing the attestation form, cruise ship operators agree to follow specific conditions to allow safe disembarkation of crew while protecting public health.
Such conditions include arranging to transport crew members to their final destination (US or overseas) by industry-chartered private transport and ensuring these crew:
- will not stay overnight in a hotel before the flight or at any point until they reach their final destination
- will not use public transportation
- will not enter the public airport terminal
- will not take commercial aircraft after an initial charter flight
- will not have a transportation layover exceeding 8 hours
- will not have interaction with the public during their travel home or to their new duty station (e.g., rental car companies, restaurants, other public areas).
However, cruise company officials have complained about the arranging private transportation being ‘too expensive’, local media reported, citing a spokeperson for the agency.
Reports focus specifically on the cruise ship ‘Oosterdam’, which was forced to depart the Port of Los Angeles with around 800 crew members onboard on 26 April, after cruise line executives refused to meet CDC guidelines, reports by MiamiHerald say. Passengers disembarked on 14 March, but the crew is still quarantined onboard the ship which is currently anchored off California.
In another case, the same reports reveal that crew was ready to disembark the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity, when the company’s legal department announced it did not agree to the CDC’s terms, preventing them from getting off.
Cruise companies are expecting to hear back from the CDC about their plans to repatriate crew. There are currently about 100,000 people stuck at sea, with no clarity on when they will be able to go home.
After the COVID-19 crisis left thousands of crew stranded at sea, the shipping industry is fighting to get seafarers recognised as key workers internationally in order to exempt them from pandemic-related travel restrictions.