Aboard Laid-Up Cruise Ships, COVID-19 Risk Continues For Crew

Costa Fascinosa, left, with Costa Magica, 2013 (file image)

Published Mar 30, 2020 8:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

Long after their passengers have returned home, most of the world's full-size cruise ships retain a sizeable crew complement, and some of these vessels are beginning to report COVID-19 cases or symptoms consistent with COVID-19 on board. 

In addition to the passenger-involved outbreaks aboard Diamond Princess, Grand Princess, Ruby Princess, Costa Luminosa, Costa Victoria, Braemar, Silver Shadow, Silver Explorer, Artania and Zaandam, multiple cruise ships have reported either positive test results or flu-like illness among the crew during the ongoing layup period.

The vessels with reported crew-only outbreaks include:

- Carnival Freedom, which had one crewmember transferred ashore and hospitalized in Gulfport, Mississippi last Monday. The individual has since tested positive. 

- Oasis of the Seas, which is believed to have 14 positive test results among her crew, based on a leaked audio recording of an onboard announcement. The vessel is at anchorage off The Bahamas. 

- Costa Favolosa, which medevaced about half a dozen crewmembers to Coast Guard Base Miami Beach on March 26 for "life-critical care" for "respiratory symptoms consistent with pneumonia and bronchitis." The Favolosa evacuated an additional crewmember on Sunday. Though the symptoms align, the cases have not been confirmed as COVID-19-related. 

- Costa Magica, which evacuated six crewmembers to shore on March 26 in the same evolution as Costa Favolosa. 

- Costa Fascinosa, which disembarked seven crewmembers for medical care at the port of Santos, Brazil last week. Two have since tested positive, according to Brazil's National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa). A judge in Santos has ordered all remaining crew to stay on board, except for those requiring medical assistance. 

- The brand new Celebrity Apex, which was delivered to her owner at Chantiers de l'Atlantique with two confirmed coronavirus cases among her crew. 

Even for vessels without positive cases, de-crewing and repatriation is difficult due to current global travel restrictions, and thousands of seafarers are currently stranded on board idled cruise ships. Most still have pay, though the question of their compensation after the end of their contract term (when they would normally be allowed to disembark) varies from one operator to another. 

On Monday, dozens of crewmembers from Costa Favolosa and Costa Magica were permitted to board buses for Miami International Airport for chartered repatriation flights to the Philippines. A video from the scene indicates that the workers boarded aircraft directly from the tarmac without entering the terminal. Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian are also repatriating crew via Miami International, an airport spokesperson told Miami Herald.