Thousands of cruise ship crew members remain stuck at sea amid the coronavirus pandemic as their companies clash with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over rules to bring them home.
Carnival Cruise Line said it has more than 10,000 healthy crew members on board their ships and is planning to have them home to their respective countries over the next week. Roughly 10,000 crew have already been repatriated, the company said in a press release.
“The safety and well-being of our team members continues to be a top priority,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “Given the pause in our operations, we are committed to getting our crew members safely home to their families. We sincerely thank them for their hard work, patience and understanding during this process.”
Ryan Driscoll, a resident guest entertainer, has been out at sea since Feb. 23. The 26-year-old vocalist from Las Vegas said he was originally on the Seabourn Quest but was transferred to its sister ship, the Odyssey about a week ago.
The Quest took on European crew members to get them home, he said. People from the United States, Central America and South America were put on the Odyssey, which is currently anchored off the coast of Bridgetown, Barbados.
“It’s been very strange,” Driscoll told NBC News Thursday from his cabin. “We call it the twilight zone. Everyone’s got cabin fever. We’ve been confined to our cabins now for two weeks.”
Part of the reason crew members have been unable to disembark the ships and travel home is because of conflicts regarding guidelines issued by the CDC, a situation first reported by the Miami Herald.
Following coronavirus outbreaks on cruise ships and the spread of the disease, the CDC extended its No Sail Order which says that cruise line companies must implement a plan to safely get crew members home.
The agency will allow crew to disembark only if the cruise line signs an agreement stating that the company has complied with the CDC’s requirements, which says that the companies need to provide noncommercial transportation.
A CDC spokesperson told the Miami Herald that cruise companies have complained that arranging private transportation for crew would be too expensive.
Driscoll said he thinks Seabourn Cruise Line is handling this unprecedented situation the best it can but does not want to be kept in the dark about what’s going on. As of now, he does not know when he will be able to head home.
He said he hopes the ship will allow him to disembark in Barbados so he can catch a flight back to the U.S. He said he’s been in contact with the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown and is working with the ship’s management as well as the cruise company.
“We’re all very frustrated. [We] want to get home, see our families. Especially when every day you’re looking out your window and you see land 200 yards away knowing I can leave but I’m not allowed off the ship,” Driscoll said.
Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Seabourn Cruise Line, said in its press release that 18 of its ships with crew members still on board will rendezvous in the Bahamas within the next several days as the company finalizes plans to get everyone home.
“Nine ships will sail to their destinations with crew members from North American-based ships on board,” the company said. “The remaining nine ships will spend most of their time in anchorage positions in The Bahamas or Panama and eventually all ships will reduce their crew numbers to safe operational manning levels.”
Carnival said all crew members who are able to return home have undergone health checks, including taking their temperatures, and have been cleared by their medical teams to travel.
Alex Adkins, a Royal Caribbean employee, has been stuck on a ship for weeks with roughly 1,000 other crew members. The vessel originally left San Juan, Puerto Rico but could not return there because the ports are closed.
The ship, which Adkins asked not to be identified, let guests off in Miami, Florida on March 17 while the crew stayed on board. The vessel is currently off the coast of Barbados.
According to Adkins, crew members have been told that the company has sent the CDC its repatriation plans but either the CDC has not responded or the company’s request for a charter flight has been denied.
“We’ve been told that there are ‘plans’ to get us on these flights. None of these flights so far have been confirmed,” Adkins said. “There were two flights, this past week, that I was supposed to be on that for whatever reason didn’t happen.”
The 25-year-old from Dallas said he does not blame Royal Caribbean or the CDC. Both Adkins and Driscoll said there have been no known coronavirus cases on either of their ships.
“It’s just frustrating that we seem to just kind of be citizens of not our country but we seem to be citizens of the company that we work for,” Adkins said.
Royal Caribbean said in a statement that it has been working closely with health officials to get its crew home.
“We submitted a plan to the CDC and are awaiting their feedback,” the statement read. “We continue to work with all appropriate authorities to establish a safe and secure way for all of our crew members to return home as soon as possible.”