How will the new normal look like for the cruise ship crew?

Jul 20, 2020

As some of the cruise lines are already making plans to set a small number of cruise ships back in operations and implement new safety protocols in order to do so, many crew members are wondering what the “new normal” will look like for them once they join and assume their daily duties and life back on board.

With all restrictions across the world by governments and health authorities, it is quite difficult to predict what measures, and under which conditions the crew will be allowed to join the ships, as well as work on them. One thing is certain, the new living and working conditions will be quite challenging for the seafarers. 

A document presented to the crew by one of the major cruise lines gives some insights about how the new normal for the crew might be, as well as the rules they need to follow. This document applies only for that certain cruise line which might not be applicable for the reminder cruise ship companies. However, the likelihood that some of these rules will be implemented by most if not all cruise lines is high. Bellow the rules have been presented:

Before joining the ship

- Covid-19 swab testing before joining the ship

Besides the regular medical exam which each crew member needs to complete before joining the ship, he/she will have to do Covid-19 swab test prior to traveling and joining the ship. This will most likely be at the crew member's coast, just like the medical exam. The crew will be informed by their recruiting agency about the detailed protocol and the procedures to follow for doing the swab testing.

- Travel PPE must be used

The crew must use Travel Personal Protection Equipment during the flight all the way until they reach the sign on ship. Recruiting agencies will present all the details about what kind of PPE protection crew will have to wear for their maximum protection.

Once onboard

Upon arrival onboard, each crew member will be placed in isolation for 1 week. After this period a second Swab test will be carried on. If the swab shows negative test result the crew member is permitted to work.

Compulsory Safety Trainings

The crew will attend compulsory trainings in order to be familiarized with the new safety regulations and protocols or the “new normal”.

What will be the new normal for the crew?

The “new normal” does not look quite normal at all. The rules and regulations are quite strict and in some cases, crew who do not follow these rules can be fired.

These are some of the rules and regulations by a document presented to the crew by one cruise line.

2. Shorter contract length of 5 months (+1/-1 month)

3. No shore leave for the full length of the contract.

4. Some crew recreation areas will be closed to limit social gatherings until further notice.

5. Sanitation practices to be used at all times (hand sanitizer, handwashing etc.)

6. Daily temperature checks.

7. Social distancing rules in place throughout the ship.

8. Use of PPE during both working and resting hours when in guest/crew areas to be applied.

9. Lack of adherence to medical and sanitary protocols reflected in the Code of Conduct may lead for the most severe cases to dismissal.

10. Onboard security enforcement carried out in full adherence to sanitary protocols.

11. Specific rules for crew meetings, onboard trainings and communications in adherence with safety protocols and medical recommendations will be applied.

12. Increased psychological support system for crew wellbeing.

These are some of the initial outliners expected that the crew will sign before boarding a cruise ship by the cruise company that is preparing to start sailing in some of the ports of Europe. However, additional restrictions may follow with additional safety measures. Some of them might be accommodating one crew member per cabin. At the beginning this is quite manageable since the ships will start to operate with max 60% guest capacity, or less, as well as reduced number of crew. 

Concerns related to additional duties for the crew onboard if someone does not arrive on the sign on date or if someone tests positive. Replacements may not come as quickly or easy as it was pre-COVID 19, so if something like this happens the crew will have to take upon the duties of the missing crew member.

Regarding the restrictions about no shore leave for an entire contract, one union representative said:

“The port state is the only entity that can deny shore leave, but they can only do so for very specific reasons. A general fear of a seafarer being infected is not sufficient. If both the ship and the port are considered «green zones», there is no reason to deny shore leave. It is concerning if the coronavirus crisis ends up being something that adds additional strain to already very hard-working seafarers in the cruise industry and that seafarers may be willing to accept this because they become desperate to work and provide for their families.”

Additional consideration and concern are presented with the potential of denying emergency leave or leave. While these may not be on the table presently, past experiences teach future actions and the cruise industry thus far has experiences with COVID 19, passengers, and crew prior to the cruise industry finally disembarking their guests and crew docking their ships until further notice. 

With this in consideration, the crew members who are eager to return to work and support their families want to do so in as safe as possible manner with consideration to their human needs as well. Thus, providing crew members clear understanding of how life (not work) will be on board the ships for each crew member to be able to make informed decision would be a good start. The difference between on board and shore work is quite distinguished. People on shore can go home and entertain with friends, families, and do hobbies such as go for a walk to recharge, go for a hike to get fresh air, and so on. Crew who work and live on board do not have the same ability especially if the ability to leave the ship is already in consideration to be nonexistent. If such restrictions are posed by the ports of call, authorities, and health authorities, making life aboard a ship one that would stimulate some level of normalcy for the not only physical but also the mental health of each member is the responsibility of the cruise company. Upon discussing some concerns with crew members who are considering taking upon the offer to return to work, we compiled a list for cruise companies to consider as recommendation to make on board life somewhat normal for crew:

  • 1. Provide crew a letter with a presentation of what life would look like for crew when they return to work and live aboard the ship in the same manner that the letter of the expectations to be signed by each returning crew member was sent in a manner of a binding agreement and contract. 
  • 2. Free internet to be able to socialize with friends, family and crew
  • 3. Better food quality comparable to the guests
  • 4. Access to all tv channels and video on demand
  • 5. Time scheduled gym and spa access for crew with reduced to no charge
  • 6. Additional crew open deck areas
  • 7. Assigned day or partial day off for crew to recuperate if crew is working overtime due to additional requirements for cleaning and sanitizing
  • 8. Shorter contacts to 3-5 months with paid 1-month leave.
  • 9. Clearly outlined repatriation rights, as well as payment terms when the cruise ship sails with or without guests.

The cruise industry would like to place those ship back to sailing and crew members as well would like to return to work, but working aboard ship was quite the hard work and lifestyle prior to COVID 19 and it takes crew to get to have those ships sail and function and crew are humans who also have needs and basic human rights. With respect to this, we hope that the cruise company that is about to have their ships ready to sail, consider the requests from the crew just as much as the crew placed a thought into what it would take to return to work and LIVE on a ship again. We will sail again as 2020 made us unbreakable in safe and considerate manner.