As U.S. based cruise companies like Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruise lines announce their intentions of resuming operations this summer, countries where many crew members reside are facing unprecedented increases in the number of coronavirus cases.

Over 40% of crew members hired by cruise lines reside in countries such as India and the Philippines. This weekend,  India, which provides around a quarter of seafarers for the cruise industry, recorded more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time. The country faces a catastrophic second wave of the virus which is overwhelming hospitals and causing families to desperately search for oxygen. The U.S. media shows the public waiting in long lines outside of hospitals in dire stress. India is resorting to makeshift funeral pyres as crematoriums and morgues are unable to handle the number of deaths caused by the virus. Unlike the U.S., India’s vaccination efforts have been hampered by shortages of vaccines.

The number of daily COVID-19 cases in India has climbed to over 400,000 after ten consecutive days of more than 300,000 daily cases.

Read the LA Times’ Photo essay: How India’s COVID-19 crisis leaves a trail of death and misery.

President Joe Biden on Friday imposed new travel restrictions on India in light of the epidemic, barring most non-U.S. citizens from entering the United States. The new travel restrictions, which take effect tomorrow, are on the advice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC states that fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to India.

But even before the new travel restrictions were announced, Royal Caribbean decided to temporarily suspended all assignments for its crew from India and also halted hiring in that country amid the surge of COVID-19 cases there, according to a report by Crew Center.

The popular cruise site stated that around 300 Indian crew members assigned to join Anthem of the Seas today, were canceled. Indian crew were also supposed to join Adventure of the Seas. Some of them are already in St Marten and will not be allowed to embark the ship.

Seatrade Cruise News reported that Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley downplayed the impact, calling the situation in India as “unfortunate.”

CEO Bayley acknowledged that a ‘”significant volume of employees” come from India, but added that “we have large populations from many other countries around the world” and ‘[we’re] pretty confident this will work out in the coming months.”

The Philippines, also facing a coronavirus infection spike, is extending an already month-long lockdown by two weeks as the country’s infection rate starts to slightly decrease but remains alarmingly high. President Duterte said he is extending the lockdown by two weeks through May 14th.

President Duterte is “warning mayors and village chiefs that they face jail if they don’t prevent gatherings and other events that violate the pandemic restrictions,” according to ABC News.

A MSC crew member (who wishes to remain anonymous) contacted me over the weekend questioning the discrepancy of Filipino crew members traveling to work on cruise ships while their country remains on lockdown. She stated that:

“The president of the Philippines made his decision – back to lockdown – while children under 18 are housebound – and those over 60 cannot leave the house unless essential. Masks, face-shields, etc., etc. – but in Manila they are sending seamen off to the ships????”

Meanwhile Florida Governor Ron DeSantis today suspended all local COVID-19 emergency mandates effective immediately and is issuing an executive order to outlaw all local COVID-19 emergency mandates in Florida effective July 1st. He recently initiated a lawsuit against the CDC in an effort to compel to CDC to drop its conditional sail order (in which the CDC strongly recommends that cruise line guests and crew members received COVID vaccinations) while also signing a law purporting to ban cruise line and other businesses in Florida  from requiring their customers or employees to be vaccinated.

The lawsuit filed by the state of Florida and the posturing by Governor DeSantis and some of the cruise executives (like NCL’s Frank Del Rio) and their constant bad-mouthing of the CDC  seems rather frivolous compared to the desperate situation unfolding in places like India where many thousands of crew members are struggling to keep their families safe and alive.

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Photo credit: Top – ABHISHEK/UPI/ALAMY via The Times‘ India’s Covid death toll is revealed in its crematoriums; Middle – DANISH SIDDIQUI / REUTERS via BBC News‘ India coronavirus: Round-the-clock mass cremations.

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Originally Published Manila News-Intelligencer: 2021-05-04 09:31:07