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Four Non-COVID Fatalities in Two Weeks Aboard Cruise Ships

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Regal Princess in Rotterdam, May 7 (Ruth Emmerink, Netherlands Consul General in Miami)

By The Maritime Executive 05-12-2020 04:47:05

On Saturday, the body of a crewmember from the cruise ship Regal Princess was found in the water, according to Ukraine's ministry of foreign affairs. The death marks the fourth non-COVID fatality reported aboard a large cruise ship within the past two weeks. 

The ministry's consular services director, Sergey Pogoreltsev, said that local police in Rotterdam believe that the death was likely a suicide. The deceased's relatives have been informed of the incident and the body will be returned to Ukraine for burial. 

Regal Princess arrived in Rotterdam on May 7 as part of Carnival Corporation's crewmember repatriation operation. With access to commercial flights restricted, multiple major cruise lines are using idled vessels to carry their crewmembers home. According to Ruth Emmerink, the Netherlands consul general in Miami, Regal Princess carried crewmembers from 46 nations, including 14 Dutch nationals. 

Multiple fatalities

The non-COVID fatality involving Regal Princess was the fourth involving a cruise ship crewmember in recent weeks.

On Sunday, a Chinese national who recently signed on as a crewmember aboard Mariner of the Seas was reportedly found dead in his cabin by his crewmates. The news was based upon statements from other members of the crew and was reported by a plaintiffs' lawyer; it could not be independently confirmed. Mariner of the Seas is currently under way off the Bahamas and reporting her destination as Coco Cay. 

On Friday, a 29-year-old crewmember from the cruise ship Carnival Breeze was found dead on board during his voyage home. The individual, a Hungarian national who worked as an assistant excursion manager, is reported to have committed suicide. Carnival has confirmed the fatality but not the cause. “Sadly, we can confirm the death of a male team member who was on guest status on Carnival Breeze’s repatriation sailing to Europe” a Carnival spokesperson told cruise industry media. “His death is not related to COVID-19, but out of respect for his family, we will not be providing additional details.” 

Carnival Breeze is currently under way in the Atlantic, bound for Southampton. She is scheduled to arrive Friday. 

On April 29, a 27-year-old electrician from the cruise ship Jewel of the Seas fell into the sea while the vessel was moored in the Saronic Gulf. The Greek Coast Guard launched a search but did not locate the victim. Royal Caribbean has confirmed the incident.  

Jewel of the Seas is currently under way in the Mediterranean, bound for Gibraltar.

Pressures mount

Since the cruise industry shutdown began in March, tens of thousands of cruise ship crewmembers have been effectively stranded on board their vessels, some of them without pay. According to a recent tally from the U.S. Coast Guard, as many as 120 cruise ships with 95,000 crewmembers are in or near U.S. waters - not including vessels in the rest of the world. (That number is gradually going down as the major cruise lines redeploy vessels for repatriation or layup.)

Quarantine requirements, air travel restrictions, travel bans, charter flight costs and liability concerns have all added up to a difficult situation for crew transfers of any kind, and cruise ships face an added level of regulatory scrutiny due to perceived COVID-19 risk. 

For crewmembers, this adds up to a high-pressure situation. “Many of these people have been isolated in their small cabins for 21 hours a day and they’re breaking down from the loneliness and stress,” said former NCL employee Krista Thomas, speaking to Bloomberg. Thomas operates a social media forum for crewmembers and says that she has received messages illustrating the strain they are under - including messages expressing suicidal thoughts. “Many have been told to pack quickly to leave, and then their charter flights get canceled. Those highs and lows are taking their toll," she said.