Crew members stranded on cruise ships and stuck in cabins without fresh air for weeks – even after passengers have been flown home – fear they have been forgotten about, Sky News has been told.
Dancer Lauren Carrick, 29, from Norwich, is one of 900 crew members on the Celebrity Infinity ship unable to get home due to restrictions enforced by US authorities amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The cruise liner has been at sea off the Bahamas for nearly seven weeks and those on board have not touched land since then.
“Everyone is obviously really frustrated and upset. Everyone wants to get home,” Ms Carrick told Sky News.
Ms Carrick, who is on board with fiancee Joseph Harrison, 27, said crew members were isolated in their cabins for 21 days – some of which did not have windows.
“When you are in there for 24 hours a day, that’s hard in itself trying to find things to do – there’s only a certain amount of TV you can watch on your laptop every day.
“We have been lucky enough to get free WiFi but the connection’s not great.”
The crew are now allowed to leave their cabins three times a day for meals.
The crew members are a mixture of nationalities, including British, American, Indonesian and Filipino.
They have been unable to return home since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imposed a No Sail Order on ships within US waters, which bans crew members from using commercial transport to disembark.
Cruise companies are allowed to arrange special charter flights, but Ms Carrick says the CDC has cancelled four flights organised so far – dashing the hopes of crew members.
Earlier this month, the US Coast Guard said over 100 cruise ships and 90,000 crew members were still stuck at sea in or near American ports and waters.
A crew member on board the Symphony of the Seas ship, the largest passenger ship in the world, also told Sky News that more than 1,000 staff were waiting to get home after the CDC had not approved their charter flight.
“It’s a rollercoaster of emotions,” Ms Carrick said.
“You can be happy one day because you think you might be let out of your cabin, or you think ‘I might be flying home in two days’, or then you’re upset because actually it’s not going to happen.”
Ms Carrick said many of the staff on the Celebrity Infinity have also had their wages stopped – although they are given $13 (£10.42) a day. This is an especially big problem for those who send money home to their families.
On its website, the CDC lists 23 cruises which have been affected by COVID-19.
Of these, 13 ships had reported travellers who tested positive for the virus.
The rest, including the Celebrity Infinity, had passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of disembarking. However, because these travellers’ symptoms began after the voyage, it is not certain they contracted the virus on the ships.
In an update on its site, the CDC said: “We are currently in a phase of the pandemic where it is necessary to implement strict measures to control the spread of COVID-19.
“Just as the American public has a role to play by staying home to slow the spread, cruise lines have a role to play in properly caring for their crew, including isolating them if they are sick and quarantining them if they have been exposed.”
Ms Carrick says there are no cases of COVID-19 on the ship and no one has symptoms.
Many of the crew members are now desperate to get home to husbands, wives and children.
“I don’t understand why we’re treated differently to paying passengers,” Ms Carrick said. “We’re still people at the end of the day.”
A spokeswoman for Celebrity Cruises said: “We have at all times worked in close co-ordination with government and health authorities and are grateful for their guidance.
“We are working with all appropriate authorities to ensure the safe return home of all our crew members.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are in direct contact with the operator of the Celebrity Infinity cruise ship, as well as with many crew members and their families.
“We will continue to support tour operators to ensure the welfare and safety of British crew.”