Your Life Matters: Former Crew Member Story

May 24, 2019

Crew Center was born out of the need for crew members to have a voice related to their everyday life challenges, to obtain resources, stay connected and informed, as well as support crew members.  The website started as nothing more than wanting to help crew members by veteran crew members who have experienced everything that they may just now be for the first time. It became a community of belonging where most often crew members on ships with over 60 other cultures lose sense of community while focusing predominately on making the money. In the last decade of its existence, we have received so much information directly from crew related to the concerning working environments and long hours that we decided to start focusing our time on advocacy for improvement of these by bringing crew members voices and needs to the public. As a crew community, we are increasingly concerned with the increase of onboard suicides committed by crew members. Suicide is something that can be prevented especially in enclosed environments such as ships with appropriate prevention measures and care.

YOU ARE INDESPENSIBLE

Before we jump to the meat of this piece, let us bring some of the few reasons we are taking up some of your precious time.  While for the cruise industry every crew member is dispensable and replaceable, for your friends and family YOU ARE INDESPENSIBLE as there is no other you in this world. Crew Center covered several articles within the last 2 years related to crew members found dead in their cabins, in hallways, etc. The disturbing fact is that some of them actually approached for help such as emergency relief of duty and to be sent home, others approaching HR, etc. without response to their needs. The families of these crew members received no monetary compensation whatsoever.  As you may remember, dependent on how tired you were, that when you were signing the life insurance policy it does exclude suicide. However, surely no amount of money will compare to having their sons, friends, and loved ones back especially not the measly $50K that most cruise companies provide their crew members in the event of harm during “duty” and accidental death. In this piece, we will give you a personal encounter of a veteran crew member because it is important to talk about these issues from a person-centered perspective.

Most of the first contract was absolutely a blur

While most girls growing up dreamt of their weddings, becoming princesses, and ballerinas, I grew up dreaming of traveling the universe and working for NASA. The likelihood of that happening living in Eastern Europe was very slim to none ratio. One way or another, I ended up on an interview with my older brother to work on cruise ships and was offered a job. It was presented to me as I could travel the world and make money at the same time, as well as have a lot of fun meeting people from all over the world. I was sold and dropped my studies to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. My mother scrapped somehow to send me on this adventure. Even though today to me it does not sound like a lot of money, back then for my family it was nothing short than a fortune. I arrived in Florida and got hit first with a hurricane which got me stuck in a hotel for a week without even the ability to reach out to my family to let them know that I am alright. I cannot even imagine the worries and concerns that my mother could have gone through, but I could only imagine as she always use to say to me “I did not find you on the street, I made you of the best of me.” And she absolutely did for which I am grateful and most likely why I am still here today when 12 years ago it could have turned differently indeed. 

The chaos continued from the moment the hurricane cleared out and the cruise company finally getting their bearings to sort all of us to our assigned cruise ships. Most of the day, well most of the first contract, was absolutely a blur. All I remember was working from 5 am until past midnight. For the first month, I did not manage to even get off the ship as going from a college student to working that much without any days off was something that I was adjusting and coping with by spending any time to rest. Food became something of the luxuries equivalent to baking myself at the beach. Do not get me wrong, there was so much food on board that I could have become obese the first month. Problem was that my body felt the need to rest more than to eat. I went from talking to my friends and family on a daily basis to once a month with receiving emails from my mother to return home because this is not what she was expecting, he child’s estrangement. I went from doing things I liked to do such as writing, drawing, etc. to favoring only food and sleep. The social butterfly that use to draw crowds of friends at home, became beyond antisocial as speaking words takes energy and my energy was reserved solely for my insatiable guests. I made a conscious decision not to even initiate any romantic relationships as I saw how they barely functioned, crumbled and not to mention were very intrusive at times when you share a room with another human being. Oh, did I mention that there were times I slept on an open deck, the hallway, or wherever I can because my less than concerning roommate had her married boyfriend in our cabin having sex. I mean that was not even that bad as waking up to the sound of them under my bunk bed. Yeah, I never planned to be a part of that porno. Honestly, coming from a very orthodox culture it was hard to look at my roommate afterwards with a straight face.

I felt that I was losing a part of me

I know that all sounds pretty intrusive and bad, but in all honesty, that was kind of the easy part. The part that tore a person’s ego was the work part. At the time I did not understand it all of course as I was quite young, unseasoned and naïve, but after I went back to school I was able to give all of those things names and understand them better. Let’s talk about how my very first contract, that was about 11 months, I was sexually harassed by my assistant manager practically on a daily basis. I was lucky enough to have the officers who became good friends and make a complaint that resolved the behavior for the most part. I remember my young and inane self entering the fridge and crying myself after each instance.  The cook would see me there and bring me chocolate soufflé, my favorite, and tell me that it gets better as my skin becomes thicker. He was right, my skin became thicker; however, I felt at the same time that I was losing a part of me and maybe the best of them all, my sweet, kind and carrying innocence. 

After requesting help from the HR Manager I was told that there is nothing he can do

By the end of the contract, I learned how to work people in my favor and deflate rude and inappropriate remarks. However, with each new ship and contract was a new challenge in learning how to navigate. After 3 years of silent or outward abuse in some shape or form (i.e., psychological, emotional, stalking, etc.) I had it and finally reached out to HR requesting help related to the assistant manager on my last ship. I was told that there is nothing he can do about it. By then my whole being was exhausted and for a brief moment my mind went into “there is a way this could all be over.” The moment that feeling of complete helplessness and hopelessness hit me, my mother’s words ran through my head “I did not find you on the street, I made you of the best of me” and I ran to the infirmary with a purpose. In my mind, it was better to go home without a plan or a job/studies than to act on those thoughts especially since they are not the sweet, carrying, fun loving, bubbly and always see the positive side of life girl that I am. 

I did the right things, said the right words and luckily I was familiar with the onboard physician who knew that this is very much not within my norm. I was detained in the infirmary for close to two days while closely monitored and watched, then sent to the hospital as soon as the ship docked. There I was deemed significantly malnourished, dehydrated, severely exhausted, etc. that contributed to the deterioration of my mental health status. I was sent off to a hotel, given a flight ticket and about to be tossed like trash. But my mother did not find me on the street, she made me of the best of her and that included resourcefulness and sense of advocacy. I reached out to the company informing of all that had happen and that unless they assure my medical and financial needs I will be suing them. 

Medical off and the advice from my mother

I ended up receiving employee medical assistance and financial support for 6 months all while I was seeing a psychologist. She recommended me never going back to a ship and that the living and working environment with consistent abuse caused the decline of my mental health status. And I listened closely to her rationale and sat down to make a decision of what is more important to me at that time. It boiled down to I am more important to me and my family, but I the healthy and happy self. So, I wrote to the company that I am not returning and thought about what is my next step in a life long and hard. With the love and support of my family and friends, I started piecing my land life that I lost at sea and building confidently goals that would exclude ships. I went on to return to school and got a degree to become a psychotherapist to help people who experience significant challenges. I have practiced for years now and reading what is happening on cruise ships is not novel to me as I remember all those experiences as if they happened yesterday. 

Words of advice for the crew

I am saddened to read and hear of crew members taking their precious lives away and for what and who? I remember how good it felt talking to a psychotherapist after everything to simply be heard and to ventilate my frustrations of being mistreated. I felt like a human again and as half the burden was off of my chest each time walked out feeling more myself with a new and better perspective. Now at the peak of my career, I am more than aware that assuring the person’s – in this case crew member’s -- humanity and mental health needs are just as important as – and even more so than – their physical being. A person is a whole being, not just physical object that exists and as such it is important to cater to the whole. If nothing else, I do hope that my self-exposure on this very public portal gives one crew member who feels hopeless and helpless the sense that there is more to life than the deep blue seas and that your mother did not find you on the street, she made you of the best of her. Honor that and your own life, as it is the only life you have and if matters become grim and gray reach out for any resource for help. Sometimes just talking to someone, even a friend can be half the help. Do not worry that you will burden that person because I can assure that finding out that something has happen to you would be a greater burden for the rest of their life. An hour of ventilation to a friend is much better than a lifetime of longing to have the chance to have heard your words followed by building memories and experiences together. Your life is precious to someone, might not be the cruise corporation, but it is precious to someone and hopefully precious to you even if it does not feel that way in some instances.

The following article was sent to Crew Center by a former crew member expressing her personal experience of life and work on cruise ships.

Are you a crew member? Do you have a story to share? You can send us your story hereWe will keep the source confidential and not reveal your identity.

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