A cruise ship worker from Lincolnshire has been stranded off the Phillippine coast for two months despite efforts to repatriate Brits who were abroad when coronavirus struck.
Nadia Hancock, 23, and 200 shipmates are stuck on the Pacific Dawn, anchored outside the capital of Manila.
All the passengers were allowed to get off but many of the crew have had to remain onboard, partly because of border closures and flight bans around the world.
But Nadia said her employers held her on board without pay in case cruise operations restarted – even after much of Europe had gone into lockdown.
Nadia has nothing to do, is not being paid and does not qualify for the UK’s furlough scheme because she was working outside of the country.
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She said: ‘We haven’t had fresh fruit, veg or dairy like cheese on board for months or been able to get our usual stock-up supplies as no ports allow us to dock.
‘But P&O have looked after us very well given the unprecedented circumstances.
‘We have free food and accommodation and we are updated twice a day with announcements and they are taking the Covid-19 precautions seriously despite having no cases on board.
‘We are able to roam around the ship but we have to be 2m apart from everyone at all times and no social gatherings or events can take place.
‘The only places people can use are the top deck where the food pantry and running track are and their rooms as there’s not much else going on.’
The ship was initially in Australian waters but left after the border was closed, and Manila was the closest place allowing it to anchor, Nadia added.
She said she arrived on the ship on March 14 – the day before the passengers got off – for a five-month contract with Harding Retail selling jewellery at one of its shops onboard.
The 23-year-old explained: ‘Just over two weeks after arriving on board the company I work for said that because there were no passengers allowed on board anymore there would be no work and no payment.
‘The passengers had been sent home but the crew were held on board for 30 days in case operations were up and running again by then.
‘But after it got to the 30-day mark they realised it was much more serious globally and the cruise industry would be on hold for a long time.
Her employers tried to find flights home for the crew but these were cancelled due as countries began shutting their borders.
Nadia has been messaging friends and family back home but the ship’s internet is not strong enough to connect phone calls.
About 100,000 cruise ship employees are stranded on vessels across the world.
More than 5,300 of these are Phillippine staff being held off the coast of Manila in around 20 ships awaiting clearance to return home from their own government, Nadia added.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently told the BBC embassy staff are working with operators to get staff back to the UK.
A spokesman for P&O Cruises Australia said: ‘Unfortunately, as COVID-19 approached, cruise ships were ordered out of Australian waters including the P&O Cruises ships Pacific Explorer, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Aria, which had been operating from Australian home ports for years.
‘All three ships are with a number of cruise ships anchored off Manila with crew in the process of being repatriated. I can understand your reader’s concern at the time that this is taking.
‘Repatriation of the onboard teams is a very complex project and every effort is being made to find pathways to get crew members home.’
‘We have made a commitment that we won’t rest until they are reunited with their families.’
Harding Retail did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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