Story at a glance
- Cruise ships emerged as major hotspots for outbreaks at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
- While passengers were evacuated, some cruise ship employees were forced to remain on the ship in quarantine.
- At least a half-dozen crew members died by suicide onboard, according to a Bloomberg investigation.
Editor's note: A previous headline for this story incorrectly stated "dozens" of cruise employee dies and has been updated to reflect that the number is "at least a half-dozen," according to the Bloomberg News report.
Tens of thousands of cruise ship workers were trapped at sea for months in isolation as crew members began to die — not only from the coronavirus, but suicide, reveals a new Bloomberg News investigation.
Before the coronavirus pandemic came to the United States, the country watched as cruise ships — first one, then several — became hotspots for COVID-19. Some passengers died before others were evacuated by their home countries. But crew members that survived COVID-19 faced another danger: isolation.
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In April, some cruise companies refused to sign an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Miami Herald reported, which would hold them accountable for the process of arranging private transportation for crew. A spokesperson for the agency told the Herald cruise company officials complained it was "too expensive."
When the ships finally docked, it was too late for some who were confined to tiny cabins in crisis conditions and even no pay at times, according to Bloomberg, with little to no idea when they would see their families again. Even those who are comfortable at home have reported worse mental health during the pandemic, which has only been exacerbated for those with preexisting conditions.
“We are saddened by the passing of our crew member and extend our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones,” Chris Chiames, the chief communications officer for Carnival Cruise Line, told Bloomberg News.
Chiames said the company provided counseling resources and regular communications about self-care, but some workers told the news outlet it wasn't enough. Crew aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas went on a hunger strike, while those on the Majesty of the Seas raised a banner that said, "How many more suicides do you need?!” Ships' captains "took steps to resolve each situation," Royal Caribbean told Bloomberg News, adding that the company “understood the frustration behind the protest.”
Some families are pursuing legal recourse, Bloomberg News reported, including that of Jozsef Szallers, a 28-year-old worker who was found dead on the Carnival Breeze on May 9.
“Nothing will bring back my child, but it may give us some peace,” his father Vilmos Szallers told the outlet. “If the cruise company did something wrong, then I don’t think we’ll ever find out, because it’s such a huge entity and there’s such a vast financial network behind it. They just ignore us.”
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