Royal Caribbean, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has made a plan to repatriate its crew members back to their respective home countries – including those from the U.S. – as the coronavirus pandemic lingers.
While the cruise industry has managed to disembark passengers from ships, it has struggled with how to remove thousands of crew members.
Across 26 cruise ships, 25,000 Royal Caribbean crew members have completed 14 days of in-room quarantine and are now practicing social distancing, according to an internal letter to crew from Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean president and CEO, and obtained by USA TODAY. Five crew members are being treated in isolation with flu-like symptoms, which are similar to those of COVID-19.
Nearly 9,100 crew members have returned home, including 398 Americans, by commercial flights and private transport.
Royal Caribbean crew members come from 60 countries, and returning them home means following 60 sets of rules.
“What we’ve learned over the past month is that one simple question – how do we get you home? – turns out to be incredibly complex to answer,” Bayley wrote in the letter.
Here’s the breakdown of when remaining American crew members aboard the Royal Caribbean fleet can return home. Bayley noted that plans are subject to change:
Beginning May 6, American crew on ships near the U.S. will receive private transportation home.
American crew in Asia will fly home from the Philippines pending the reopening of the Manila airport.
Crew at Perfect Day, the line’s private island in the Bahamas, and off the Barbados coast will sail to Miami and then be sent home via private transport. They should return home by May 14.
U.S. crew now in the Mediterranean should fly home by May 20.
The letter also indicated that one employee had died this month after being hospitalized for several weeks and that the company was mourning “the loss of several of our colleagues over the past two months.” It did not say whether they had COVID-19. USA TODAY has reached out to Royal Caribbean for more information.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues, including his two brothers, who also work for the Royal Caribbean family,” Bayley wrote in the letter of the recently deceased employee “We have all been traumatized by this terrible time and it is our shared commitment to each other that will help us journey to better times.”
The CDC will only allow the line to disembark crew if company executives guarantee crew members won’t use public transportation, public airport terminals or interact with rental car companies or restaurants on their trips home, among other stipulations. The cruise line and company executives are subject to criminal penalties such as imprisonment if crew members break those rules. Still, Bayley said the line would agree to the terms to get crew off the ships.
“Over the past several days we have discussed our concern with the CDC on the criminal penalties associated with guaranteeing future events that we had little to no control over,” Bayley wrote in the letter. “We remain hopeful that this language will eventually be adjusted.”
The CDC is “pleased” the cruise line decided to take the steps to safely disembark crew and is ready to review the cruise line’s submissions, spokesperson Scott Pauley told USA TODAY. “CDC is committed to helping crew members disembark and return home to their families as quickly and safely as possible while protecting their health and the health of the communities to which they will be returning,” Pauley added.
Those who don’t want to leave ships don’t have to, Bayley wrote, and added that more than 1,000 have requested to remain aboard.
As for when the ships might cruise again? Royal Caribbean spokesperson Jonathon Fishman told USA TODAY: “We have not yet determined our return to service date. Right now, we are focused on developing additional measures to further protect our guests and crew. We look forward to providing great service to our guests when we return, we and can’t wait to set sail again.”
Carnival Cruise Line announced Monday it plans to resume some of its North American cruise service this summer starting Aug. 1
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus on cruise ships: Royal Caribbean plans to bring crew home