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Royal Caribbean executives agree to terms for disembarking crew stuck on ships

Tentative plans in the letters say American crew on ships close to the U.S. coast will be sent home via private transportation starting Wednesday.
A view of construction workers at the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line headquarters at PortMiami as the coronavirus pandemic continues on March 26 in Miami.
A view of construction workers at the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line headquarters at PortMiami as the coronavirus pandemic continues on March 26 in Miami. [ DAVID SANTIAGO | Miami Herald ]
Published May 5, 2020

Royal Caribbean Cruises crew members who have felt imprisoned on cruise ships during a standoff between the company and the CDC might soon be emancipated, according to letters sent to employees Sunday from the CEOs of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises obtained by the Miami Herald.

In an about face, Royal Caribbean’s Michael Bayley and Celebrity Cruises’ Lisa Lutoff-Perlo announced they would sign the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s terms for disembarking crew. The letters also detailed plans for getting crew members to their home nations.

After measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 slammed the cruise industry to a halt March 13, about 100,000 crew members remained stuck on ships as they meandered in and out of U.S. waters until they can be disembarked. The discovery of the novel coronavirus infections on the ships among crew caused on-board quarantines, sometimes trapping crew in cabins lacking fresh air, crew members told the Herald.

The Miami Herald investigated COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships. Explore the findings of the most comprehensive tracking system of coronavirus cases linked to the cruise industry.

As previously reported in the Herald, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which owns Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, and other cruise companies have not agreed to the CDC’s list of requirements for disembarking crew — including making sure crew members don’t use public transportation, don’t mix with the public on the way home, don’t stay at a hotel. The requirements carry possible criminal and civil consequences for each cruise line’s CEO, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Compliance Officer if they are not followed.

Royal Caribbean Cruises has only agreed to the terms for one person — the cruise director of Liberty of the Seas, who left the ship week to go home to Tennessee.

The CDC told the Herald that cruise lines balked at the cost of private transportation. The Herald reported that Royal Caribbean Cruises repeatedly told crew that the CDC had banned all repatriation flights which CDC said was false.

The legal consequences for executives were the problem, Bayley said in his letter to staff Sunday:

“The CDC will only allow us to disembark crew members if company executives, myself included, are willing to attest — subject to criminal penalties including imprisonment — that we will not use any public transportation and that each crew member will comply with certain conditions after disembarking the ships. We are happy to do all the things they requested, but the criminal penalties gave us (and our lawyers) pause.”

While Bayley said he hopes the threat of criminal prosecution will be removed, he said, “we have decided that the importance of getting you home is so great that we will sign these documents as they are written today to help get you off the ships.”

Similarly, Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity Cruises CEO, said in her letter to crew, “In the spirit of doing everything we possibly can to get you home, I have decided to sign this letter.”

Tentative plans in the letters say American crew on ships close to the U.S. coast will be sent home via private transportation starting Wednesday, and American crew on ships in the Caribbean will be sailed to Miami and taken home “no later than May 14.” American crew on ships in Asia and the Mediterranean will be flown home.

Crew from the Caribbean, Central and South America will be transferred to certain ships and sailed home starting Saturday to the Bahamas, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, St. Kitts, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Filipino and Indonesian crew will be flown home on charter flights from Barbados and Miami. Indian crew will transfer to ships that will sail to India.

Canadians, Europeans (except Ukrainians and Romanians), and crew from all other countries will be sailed to Southampton, England, to be flown home from there. Ukrainian and Romanian crew members will be flown home on charter flights out of Miami.

Other cruise companies have been using the CDC’s process — including the required signatures from executives — albeit sparingly.

Virgin Voyages disembarked eight Americans from its Scarlet Lady ship on April 23 and April 28; Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings disembarked five Americans from its Seven Seas Mariner ship on April 25 and 346 Filipinos from its Norwegian Joy ship on April 30; Carnival Corporation disembarked three Ecuadorians from its Coral Princess ship on April 27 and 193 Argentines and Peruvians from its Caribbean Princess ship on April 25; Disney Cruise Line disembarked two Americans from its Disney Fantasy and Disney Magic ships on April 29; and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Lines has disembarked 27 Hondurans from its Grand Celebration ship on April 24, according to the CDC.

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