The crew of three cruises have been stranded in the Caribbean since mid-March without knowing when they will be repatriated
It was at the end of March when Omar, 40, who prefers to use another name for safety, registered 38.5 fever. He has been working on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship since October and is 4,000 kilometers from his home in Mexico. After noticing the temperature, he visited the ship’s doctor. Lung plaques and molecular tests of the nostrils ruled out influenza. Two days later, it did not improve. The doctor visited his cabin: the diagnosis of covid-19 came 24 hours later with blood tests. The cruise ship has about 700 crew, but only one guest: the coronavirus. The pandemic paused the lives of 117 Mexican workers spread across three ships of the US company in the Caribbean. They have not stepped on land since March 17 and have been isolated pending responses from the company or the Mexican authorities to be repatriated. His odyssey continues.
March 12 was a day like any other for Royal Caribbean employees, who awaited the arrival of new customers to begin the route. Future guests were waiting at the port of Miami when the epidemic’s numbers reached 14,000 infections and 200 deaths in the United States. Four days later, the company alerted the crew that they must return to Miami because the scheduled ports on the route would not allow them to disembark. On March 16 they docked in the Bahamas to refuel and await orders. The next day they returned to Florida to drop off the guests, but the crew was not allowed to descend. The captains of the ship warned: “We are going aimlessly.”
After days adrift, on March 20, the island of Barbados was set as a destination. The Bridgtown coastline has become a routine landscape ever since. Lies soon followed, according to several workers. “Everyone will return home on the 27th,” said the captains. Lazslo, 33, another Mexican worker who prefers not to give his real name, visited the medical center to buy a face mask. “I found the nurses desperately cleaning everything with spray and a rag. They looked worried, ”explains Lazslo, who has been working for the ship since December. In late March, most of the crew learned that there were several infected on board, including Omar and another Mexican.
On the 27th it was announced that the return trip was not going to happen. The company argued that the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not authorize a return home. The argument was repeated on April 28 and 30 and May 3 and 8. The company has announced the return home five times, but at the last minute it was canceled. To date, more than 100,000 workers are trapped on cruise ships around the world. The Mexican Government calculates that there are 2,614 citizens stranded abroad, including 117 at sea.
The CDC recently assured The Guardian that several cruise companies have refused to comply with the requirements that are demanded of them: guarantee the crew a safe transport by non-commercial means and ask them for a 14-day voluntary isolation at their destination. “Some cruises have had the unwillingness to sign the certification due to the legal consequences and have also refused to bear the costs of non-commercial transportation,” said the health agency. The International Cruise Line Association (CLIA) responded to these claims. He argued that demanding “that all employees comply with the requirements, including non-interaction with the public, with criminal penalties at stake, is neither precedent nor practical.”
The situation at Royal Caribbean began to get complicated. Outbreaks flourished on the ship with workers of dozens of nationalities. Many started to get sick. The crew decided to isolate themselves for 15 days and divide the ship into three zones. Red for the sick, orange for convalescents or those with mild symptoms, and green for the healthy. Of 18 Mexicans on board, two were infected. The routine in the red zone was always the same. Only doctors in the epidemiological suit could enter to monitor them every 24 hours and bring them Indian food, since most of the guests and cooks are usually Indian or Indonesian. “It was maddening. Within a few days I began to lose my sense of taste and smell. You are locked in the middle of the ocean and they tell you that you have the covid-19. I was doing everything possible not to worry, “explains Omar, already recovered, via telephone.
Lazslo, within the green zone, registered on the page of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations. “We received a confirmation number and a few days later an email asking us if we were in Mexico or were still abroad. When we said that we were still abroad they told us that they were still working, ”he says. The young man has contacted the Mexican Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago and the Miami consulate. The answer is the same. “We are doing everything possible.”
Foreign Ministry sources assure that the 117 Mexicans in Barbados will return home next week by air. Mexican citizens stranded on cruise ships have been repatriated from France, Italy, San Diego, and Florida. “The US authorities established additional measures for the vessels, which has made it difficult to continue with the process of disembarking and repatriating the crews,” the newspaper told the newspaper.
Two weeks of confinement have passed between uncertainty, reading, exercise and Indian food. An infected Indonesian had to be transferred to Miami in an emergency due to the severity of his condition. So far, neither Lazslo nor Omar have heard from their partner again. After the isolation, the crew can freely go out to the rest of the ship, although with a compulsory mouth mask, antibacterial gel and the safety distance. Since April 25 they receive $ 13 a day to buy food and hygiene items.
In early May, the company told the crew that this Friday they would be changed ships and separated by nationalities to proceed to their return home. Lazslo was nervous at the thought of finally going back to Mexico. The company had assured that this time it was a final decision. Thursday night a new disappointment came. “Flights will depart from Barbados on May 12,” said the cruise director in a recording provided to this newspaper, something that confirms the version of the Mexican foreign ministry. “We just want to go home,” Lazlo lamented over the cell phone. More than 50 days later, 117 Mexicans remain stranded in the middle of the ocean.