By David J. Neal and Taylor Dolven | Miami Herald
MIAMI — Royal Caribbean International cruise line employees who’ve felt imprisoned on cruise ships during a standoff between the cruise line and the CDC might soon be emancipated, according to a Sunday letter from Royal Caribbean International’s CEO.
Michael Bayley’s emailed letter to those employees said RCI executives would sign the Centers for Disease Control’s terms for disembarking crew. The letter 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, about 100,000 crew members remained on ships sent back out to meander around waters until they could be disembarked. The discovery of novel coronavirus infections on the ships among crew caused on-board quarantines, sometimes trapping crew in cabins lacking fresh air, crew members told the Miami Herald.
As previously reported in the Herald, the CDC’s list of requirements for disembarking crew — including making sure disembarked crew don’t use public transportation, don’t mix with the public on the way home, don’t stay at a hotel — required the cruise lines pony up for private transportation. They also carried possible criminal and civil consequences for each cruise line’s CEO, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Compliance Officer if the requirements got violated.
The Centers for Disease Control told the Herald that cruise lines balked at the cost of private transportation.
That consequences part was a problem, a Royal Caribbean spokesman and Carnival Cruise Line spokesperson told the Herald. Bayley admitted this in Sunday’s letter:
“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, “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.”
U.S.-based crew on ships close to the U.S. coast will be sent home via private transportation starting Wednesday. U.S.-based crew in Asia will have to wait for the airport in Manila, Philippines to reopen. The U.S.-based crew in the Mediterranean will be flown home by May 20, Bayley said. U.S.-based crew off the coast of Barbados and at Perfect day will be put on a ship to Miami and taken home “no later than May 14.”
Crew from the Caribbean, Central and South America will be transferred to the Vision, Rhapsody and Adventure. The Adventure will leave from the Bahamas on Saturday for Haiti and the Dominican Republic before ending in Jamaica. The Rhapsody will leave Miami on May 13 and hit Cartagena, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala before ending in Belize. The Vision will leave Miami on May 15 for St. Kitts, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Canadian and European (except Ukrainian and Romanian) crew members will be transferred to the Freedom, Empress and Majesty, then leave Miami on May 15 to sail to Southampton and flown home from there. Ukrainian and Romanian crew members will be flown home on charter flights out of Miami on May 16 after being transferred to the Navigator.
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