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A group of crew members aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas ship reportedly staged a hunger strike until the cruise line confirmed they would be repatriated. The workers have allegedly been stuck at sea for almost two months, as the coronavirus pandemic has upended the global cruising industry and stranded thousands of cruise workers on ships around the world.
The 14 Romanian crew members on the Navigator of the Seas began fasting on Thursday afternoon, frustrated that they had been stuck at sea for weeks on end, the Miami Herald reported.
“My mental health is degrading,” an anonymous participant said. “We do not have any more hope.”
According to company spokesperson Jonathon Fishman, the situation was resolved on Friday morning after the protestors had an “amicable discussion” with the captain. The objecting crew members, meanwhile, told the Herald that they would continue striking until Royal Caribbean verified that they would be returning to their home country soon.
On Monday morning, Fishman told Fox News that the cruise line is in the process of repatriating employees currently aboard the Navigator of the Seas, and that the Romanian crew members are set to fly home from Barbados later this month.
“We are working with the Government of Barbados to repatriate many of our crew on charter flights and have already successfully completed two charters from the island. The Romanian crew are scheduled on a charter flight from Barbados on May 21,” Fishman said.
“So far we have successfully repatriated nearly 15,000 crew members. The majority of our crew will be repatriated by the end of May,” he explained. “The goal of getting all of our crew home safely remains our top priority.”
The Romanian crew members initially worked on the Anthem of the Seas cruise ship, and were told they would return home on March 30. On Wednesday, the group was transferred to the Navigator at Royal Caribbean’s private Bahamian island ahead of a charter flight from Miami to Romania on May 16.
Then, on Thursday, Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley informed employees in a letter that the Romanians would be moved to a third ship, the Enchantment of the Seas, and fly from Barbados to their home country on May 21, the Herald reports. The crew members allege that there was no explanation provided for this delay, inspiring their hunger strike.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health authorities around the world have tightened restrictions that cruise lines must adhere to before crew members can disembark as COVID-19 cases and deaths have risen worldwide, the Associated Press reports.
Under the guidelines, crew members must be transported directly home charter plane or private car without using rental vehicles or taxis. Furthermore, the CDC has mandated that company executives must agree to criminal penalties if these employees fail to obey orders to steer clear of public transportation and restaurants en route home.
“The criminal penalties gave us (and our lawyers) pause,” Bayley said in a letter to crew members issued last week, according to the Associated Press. Royal Caribbean executives, however, ultimately agreed to sign.
On Friday, the Coast Guard said that about 70,000 crew members still remained on 102 ships either anchored near or at U.S. ports or underway in American waters.
Though the total number of cruise ship employees stranded around the world was not immediately available, thousands more are trapped on ships outside the U.S. In Uruguay and the Manila Bay, 16 cruise ships are waiting to test roughly 5,000 crew members before they will finally be allowed to disembark.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.