‘We just want to go home’: Over 300 Canadian crew still stranded at sea

(CBC) – After spending more than a month stranded on a cruise ship at sea, Will Lees of North Vancouver finally made it to Miami last week. But the cruise ship art director still doesn’t know when he’ll get home.

Lees said he and about 2,300 shipmates don’t have permission to disembark, so they remain trapped aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, Norwegian Epic, in the Port of Miami.

“We just feel so helpless,” said Lees, who has spent the past week in a windowless cruise cabin on the idle ship.

He said its pools, gyms and most common areas are closed, the TVs aren’t working and the Wi-Fi is intermittent.

“The closest thing I compare it to is prison,” said the 31-year-old. “We’re just getting very, very frustrated.”

80,000 crew members in U.S. waters

After COVID-19 started spreading on cruise ships, cruise companies suspended operations in mid-March.

Cruise lines eventually returned passengers home but many crew members had to stay on board, and are now stranded at sea or stuck in ports. Due to fears of ships spreading the virus, it has become increasingly difficult for cruise companies to secure permission to dock and disembark their remaining crew.

The Norwegian Epic is operated by Norwegian Cruise Line. (Norwegian Cruise Line)

There are 122 cruise ships in U.S. waters with more than 80,000 crew members on board, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Global Affairs Canada told CBC News it’s currently tracking 98 cruise ships still at sea carrying an estimated 318 Canadian crew members.

Who’s to blame?

Lees was hired by an art gallery in October to run art auctions and seminars on Norwegian cruises. He said his employer stopped paying him in mid-March when Norwegian suspended operations.

He said there are no COVID-19 cases on the Norwegian Epic and blames the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for his fate. Following COVID-19 outbreaks on dozens of cruise ships, the CDC mandated last month that cruise lines must meet strict health and safety requirements before they can disembark crew members at U.S. ports.

Lees said it seems as though the CDC has raised the bar so high that no one can disembark.

“They’re just being spiteful,” he said. “The cruise industry put a lot of stress on them — the U.S.A. Now they’re trying to take it out on the cruise industry, but instead they’re taking it out on us, the cruise crew.

“We just want to go home.”

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