In the final days of May, Transport Canada announced that cruise ships (carrying more than 100 people, including guests and crew) are prohibited from operating in Canadian waters until 31 October – an extension of the strict regulations that the organisation implemented this Spring.
Following this decision, Victory Line Cruises (VCL) has announced that it will be cancelling all its planned cruise itineraries for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Under the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886, foreign-flagged cruise ships must call in a foreign port at least once during each itinerary involving US ports; now, without access to Canadian ports of call, a US-based cruise on the Great Lakes is not legally possible for a Bahamian-registered vessel.
“The decision to suspend service for 2020 was a difficult and disappointing choice but necessary in response to uncertainties of Canadian travel in the coming months,” said John Waggoner, Founder and CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company, the operator of VCL. “In anticipation of operating, we have taken this time to implement cutting-edge health and safety protocols. We will now focus on our exciting new itineraries planned for 2021.”
At the end of May, reports of a Ruby Princess crewmember being diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) also surfaced. Since then, passengers that were onboard the cruise liner have been contacted by the New South Wales health department, warning that they could have been exposed to TB during their trip.
“Tuberculosis is spread from a person with [the] active disease after close and prolonged contact with that person, rather than casual exposure,” explained Dr Christine Selvey, the health department’s Acting Director of Communicable Diseases. She asserted that passengers on the ship are ‘at very low risk of infection’, and there is no reason to believe that they are at increased risk of contracting TB from being on the cruise ship.
The crewmember remains in hospital for treatment.
About two months has passed since the uproar over Covid-19 and the cruise industry began, but for many working onboard the cruise liners, life continues at a torturous pace, as they remain at sea, unable to return home due to health and safety measures in place at ports and travel restrictions imposed by many destination countries.
In mid-May, it was reported that as many as 100,000 cruise crewmembers were stuck onboard cruise ships across the world. Hunger strikes and mental health struggles have been reported amongst these individuals who are desperate to return home, and in May alone, Reuters reported that at least six cruise ship members from around the world died of causes not related to coronavirus – five of them allegedly being cases of suicide.
Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary for the Maritime Union of Australia, criticised the ‘failed cruise model of the past’, which he says allowed ‘multinational cruise lines to earn billions from Australian passengers on cruise ships registered in notorious tax havens and crewed by exploited migrant workers’. “This failed self-regulated approach led to the debacle of the Ruby Princess, resulting in dozens of deaths, along with the situation where dozens of cruise ships were left to languish in Australian waters, with no home port to go to, inadequate medical support, and no way to repatriate crew members,” he said.
ITIJ notes that while health and safety onboard cruise liners will likely be a big priority going forward, hopefully many of these multinational cruise companies will also consider enhancing the health and wellbeing benefits of their onboard staff.
Recently, Allianz Care teamed up with Tritan Software to offer digital health services for crew members working onboard commercial ships and cruise liners – so the industry has clearly acknowledged a need for these kind of solutions.
Although it is up to the travel industry to ensure individuals working in the sector are given adequate support and protection, perhaps we must look to the healthcare and insurance industry to lead the revolution by developing and promoting a range of solutions that meet the needs of this travelling workforce?