Stranded… on A Cruiseship

Shorn Biscette is a Saint Lucian musician who worked with Norwegian Cruise lines during the pandemic time of Covid-19. He shares some of his experiences onboard one of the vessels from the time the cruise line industry went into a pause.

Name: Shorn Biscette
Location: Somewhere in the ocean

Update: May 23rd, 2020

We left Miami yesterday via one of NCL’s vessels to repatriate crew from the Caribbean islands. St. Lucian crew are scheduled to arrive June 14, 2020 which will mark exactly 3 months since we’ve been aboard.

Update: May 19th, 2020

We received $10 onboard non- refundable credit daily to purchase sundries and toiletries.

March 14, 2020 was the date when most cruise lines stopped operations including Norwegian Cruise Line [NCLH].it was all over the media that cruise lines would effectively stop business from March 15, 2020. Late afternoon of the 14th, the captain made his announcement concerning the canceling of future cruises. The vessel that I was on disembarked all of its guests in Port Tampa terminal 2 the morning of March 15th and kept all its crew on board, 1,040 in number. The vessel, later on, moved to another location where it docked alongside a port in Tampa, Florida.

During the third (3) week of March 2020, everything was normal those crew members who were scheduled to work still had to do their normal duties whilst those who worked directly with guests for example musicians, bar, restaurant, spa, and entertainment staff, etc were not performing their normal duties but still had to perform safety drills and were assigned to safety duties such as checkpoints. A timesheet was still needed to be filled out because we were still on the payroll, we were able to use some facilities in order to reduce depression, boredom, and stress. Some of these facilities are the open deck for jogging and walking, the crew gym, the basketball court which was used for playing both soccer and basketball. There was a bar set up for the crew in other to purchase sodas, water, and alcoholic beverages such as beers and wine per company policy. We were served three (3) meals daily and given 1000 minutes of free internet which is renewable once used. The pools, guest gym, and spa were not accessible for use by the crew.

On the fourth (4) week of March 2020, we witnessed the repatriation of some crew members including Filipinos, Indonesians, Americans, and some others just to name a few whilst the rest were stuck onboard. We were still in our regular crew rooms and sharing cabins with the exemption of managers and officers with the privileges of single accommodation. The staff captain made an announcement for shutting down all use of facilities that the crew were able to use during their time onboard due to the rules and regulations of the CDC in order to practice social distancing and help in reducing the spread of the virus Covid-19. All we had left was the deck to walk and exercise, a food buffet, a crew mini-mart and a bar to purchase sodas and water. The company was not able to sell alcoholic beverages and cigarettes to the crew in American waters. It was only possible for the crew to purchase alcohol and cigarettes when the vessel had to go out a few miles out of the American border to dump food waste, black and grey water, and for the refilling of fresh seawater to process onboard.

On the afternoon of April 7, 2020 the company terminated my contract and most of the crew members on board, now that most of the crew had stood down completely from work. Based on my contract if you had two weeks left before termination you will receive severance pay of 14 days. Unfortunately, I was unable to receive it ’cause my contract was supposed to end on the 9th of April 2020. A few days later with all the social distancing protocols, they moved every crew member to single occupancy rooms which were guest cabins. Over and over we heard the same announcement from the captain, saying that the company is trying its best to get us, the crew, home but it seemed that nothing was being done about this statement.

28th April it was announced that many of the ship’s vessels were to head down to the Bahamas to transfer crew members on various ships. For example, Europeans transferred to the NCL BREAKAWAY, along with people disembarking in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the remaining crew had to join the NCL ESCAPE. 3600 crew members successfully completed this transition on the 29th of April.

Upon arrival on the NCL ESCAPE we were given shared cabins, I shared with a Puerto Rican national I know nothing about him. I was offered inside cabins with the beds 1 foot apart very close up; not enough space for living with a stranger and with absolutely not enough space for luggage. I couldn’t sleep that night and had to sit in the hallways. Luckily, I met some people sharing the same sentiments as I, and we were able to chat about our reality. That brought some sense of comfort to me.

Remember we are off the payroll and need to purchase personal items such as laundry detergent, Listerine, toothpaste, deodorant shaving gel, razors, snacks, and bottled water. None of that was given to us from the company. We were not even given at least an onboard account whilst here for that purpose. Stand down crew had a minimum of $50 to add to their account if they needed to buy anything. I had no choice ’cause I needed to get some shopping. During the hours slated for shopping, the ship’s authority had zero control of mass crowding and social distancing cause there were too many people to control. They then came up with a few strategies to control the crowd but it was frustrating the crew members even more because it caused the blocking of all entrances and exits. There were still long lines of people waiting to head out or get in through these exits for many reasons. The stress/desperation and urge for going out began hitting the crew, seeing them going through all kinds of emotions such as anger, and fear just to name a few.

On the 14th of May, the captain announced that they are discussing the possibilities of finally getting us home using their ships. It was said that their efforts to charter us home were not feasible at this point due to the fact that they failed to comply with CDC’s rules and regulations. Since the captain’s announcement Argentineans’ and Indonesians’ delegates have thus far repatriated their respective countries. Once again, we held on to the promises of going out to sea to pollute the ocean with Black & Grey water, then we should be back on the 18th to repatriate Hondurans.

Today, May 15th 2020 marks two(2) months since I’m on quarantine with this company,not getting paid or even getting any form of monetary support. I still don’t even know when and how I’m going home to my family. This is devastating and frustrating. Can you imagine waking up daily with the expectations or high hopes of the possibilities of you going home and you get no answers from anyone? How would you feel?

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