Marella crew members raise concerns over the company decision to transfer crew from one ship to another

Apr 12, 2020

COIVD 19 has impacted much of the world not only in a medical manner, but its economy as well. With shutting down businesses, the economy has suffered and so have people with being laid off from work trying to figure out not only how to maintain healthy and safe, but also how to continue to support their families. However, shutting down business and reducing operations are prevention actions to reduce the spread of COVID 19. Business have been placed in a hard position to lose much of their revenue, but the decision of assuring safety and health has driven many companies to make ethical decisions. Even essential personnel that has been identified to continue working during the COVID 19 pandemic has been provided hazard pay and adjusted environmental measures to assure the safety of their employees.

With the COVID 19 pandemic, the cruise industry has experienced many predicaments and concerns. Not only that the companies are losing much of the revenue, they are also experiencing medical and travel concerns for their crew. We covered the concerns related to all cruise ships having to revert and sail away from Australia when the foreign-flagged ships were asked to leave the country. The Australian cruise company brought many ethical and liability concerns to the Australian government as related to limited medical ability on board for the crew that has been affected and fought the battle to assure that they are staying close to medical services to assure the health and safety of their crew members on the affected ships by the virus. And while the Australian cruise company and other companies acknowledge that they just as many of their competitors are losing revenue, their actions have displayed that the health, wellness, and safety of their employees is imperative and top priority aligning their practices to reflect the same.

Human life matters and the cost of its loss cannot be measured with monetary value as an employee is not only a bread winner for their family, they are also loved ones to their family and friends. Loss of a loved one has impact that is not only monetary, but also emotional and psychological. The fear of losing a loved one or even losing own life in time of uncertainty and pandemic can have traumatic effect on the psychological and emotional wellbeing of a person which can affect also the physical wellbeing of the same.

This is what the crew on Marella Discovery 2 and their loved ones in their home countries are presently experiencing as the ship has been set to sail to Lisbon to meet its sister ship Explorer 2 on April 14, 2020 and then set sail to Southhampton, England. One may wonder, what is the fear related to this as the Cruise Ship Companies in Australia did the same prior to rerouting to the Philippines and Indonesia to send their crew back home? With the unconventional circumstances unconventional decisions and actions should be considered. This is agreed; however, not at the expense of the psychological and medical well being and safety on people who have not been affected by the COVID 19 pandemic.

News media such as the New York Times covered a story on April 1, 2020, that the Marella Explorer 2 had to disembark a crew member for emergency treatment via the Mexican Navy and then the member was sent to Yucatan state port of Puerto Progreso where later on the crew member passed due to COVID 19. Furthermore, the article covered that the passengers aboard were disembarked and transported to the Yucatan capital to be placed on charter flights and sent back to England. It was apparent that just as in the past, presently the Mexican government is open to allowing disembarking passengers or crew for humanitarian reasons with coordination with the British government and the cruise company. Shortly after Marella Explorer 2 embarked on a long journey crossing the Atlantic ocean with many infected crew members and faraway of reach from any emergency medical services if needed. And the medical services were desperately needed since crew reported that two of their fellow colleagues have already died during this voyage.  Yet, upon the disembarking of the guests as the first stage of the company towards final stage of docking their ships until COVID 19 clears, they appear to make a decision to complete stage two of that operation by merging the healthy crew of Discovery 2 with the Explorer 2 that is reportedly already within the hundreds COVID 19 affected crew.

Crew Center received messages from crew aboard the Discovery 2 pleading for help and in fear, as well as their family members. But the fear is two-fold, fear of losing their jobs if they were to initiate a petition to the Captain and the company expressing their concern, as well as fear of boarding the affected ship. And while the crew members are faced with the dilemma of not being able to provide for their families in the event that they lose their jobs and not being able to provide for their families potentially if they lose their life or health affected, the CEO of the company safely from his home office provides information related to the plan of action to merge the crew from one ship to another and then send them home via charter flights and even company plane. This decision was made due to the ships not having paying customers, not making money and losing money. While this is understandable that the company would want to dock the ships until operations can resume past COVID 19, questions remain related to the decisions made and practices considered whether they are ethical, legal, and even contractual.

 Crew members have informed that they are being told that the company has the right based on their contract to reallocate their crew from one ship onto another. While this is definitely the case of contracts that crew signs, it is also in relation to need (i.e., when one ship has a need for specific position to be filled, but another has additional workers). This does not cover pandemic circumstances. Even so, in those moments the crew member has the right to decline the transfer which could result in being sent home if on the ship that he or she is working there is no more need for that position. The cruise company is not able to force or order crew members to board another cruise ship if the crew members are fearful for their safety and life.

The question of ethical practice lies of the obvious inability for the Explorer 2 to already mediate their current spread of COVID 19 which has already resulted in 3 deaths so far. Cruise ships do not have the medical capabilities to treat medium to severe COVID 19 cases as their medical staff is not suited for pandemic circumstances, supply is generally limited, as well as due to COVID 19 being such a new strain of virus that there is much more that is unknown. Thus, the medical staff may not have the ability or equipment to support the growing needs. This places not only the crew in ethical predicament, but also the medical providers on board the ships. Finally, ethical consideration has to be placed that if the recommendation during COVID 19 is for healthy people to be socially isolating and for affected to be quarantined while being provided appropriate medical care, transferring the crew members from the Discovery 2 onto the Explorer 2 would place healthy people in the midst of a pandemic spread and put them at risk of being affected as well.

It is the legal responsibility of a company to assure the wellness and safety of their employees, but also to communicate openly and direct and not limit their right to inform their loved ones. Crew members aboard the Discovery 2 have informed that the way they learned about the status of the Explorer 2 was not through the Captain or the company, but through crew members communicating with their peers aboard the Explorer 2 who are equally concerned about the merge due to placing healthy members in the midst of the spread and potentially increasing the virus’ ability to spread even more and quicker than it already has. These fears are very realistic, as there is a reason why in larger cities the spread is more rapid than smaller cities. The crew members have expressed concerns related to the lack of transparency by the company related to the severity aboard the Explorer 2, but also push back from leadership related to use of social media. The crew is questioning their employer and their leadership at this time.

If the Mexican government was open to support for humanitarian reasons, why the ship deiced to set sail back to Europe? Furthermore, while merging the crew members from one ship to another is a cost effective practice in the moment, how costly would it be for the company long term when healthy crew traumatized from the experiences of lack of clarifying information related to the ship that they are about to be made to board against their own free would not return to work for the company once operations are back to normal? How costly would it be for the company long term to hire recruiters to entice good and experienced crew members to join their fleet of hard-working people? How costly would a potential lawsuit be that the crew members could consider as the company places them in compromising position without consent instead of assuring their wellbeing and safety? How costly would it be when guests learn that their fun waiter and housekeepers that treats them so well are placed in such fear and quandary?

Crew Center has been covering the COVID 19 pandemic aboard cruise ships since the moment it happened. We have covered stories about things that have been done correctly and deserve praise, stories related to great leadership through extraneous circumstances presented by the COVID 19 pandemic, as well as have made recommendations to companies that may need to consider alternatives to decisions. Business is business, this is understandably no question. However, just like business does not exist without customers neither does business exist without employees. At this time, Crew Center would kindly encourage that the company reconsiders the merge of the crew and instead travel together alongside to South Hampton while providing their crew direct, transparent and reliable information throughout the process including the number of affected, recovered, deaths, as well as specific measures with daily information related to prevention and intervention on each ship. We encourage that mental health services (i.e., telehealth or virtual) be provided to the members aboard the Explorer 2, as well as in memorial service for the passing crew members.

Update from a crew member: The Marella Discovery 2 Captain announced one hour ago that Lisbon has refused the ship for all the operations. Discovery 2 will sail straight to the UK.