Photos: 18 Carnival Ships Gather to Repatriate Crewmembers

Image courtesy Carnival

Published May 1, 2020 11:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

Crew repatriation is a major challenge for all vessel operators in the COVID-19 era, and cruise ships have more crewmembers per vessel than virtually any other type of ship. Carnival Cruise Line has found a comprehensive solution to this problem: rather than disembarking crewmembers onto U.S. soil for charter flights home, it is sailing them back with its own idled cruise ships. The plan would appear to resolve a reported disagreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control over terms and guarantees for crew disembarkation in the United States. It will also reduce wage costs at a time when cruise lines have no revenue from operations.

Over the next several days, eighteen Carnival Cruise Line ships will rendezvous at a position off of The Bahamas. Selected crewmembers will transfer between these ships using tenders. After the transfer, nine of the ships will depart with more than 10,000 crewmembers to return them to their home countries. The remaining nine ships will anchor off The Bahamas or Panama with reduced manning levels. 

Image courtesy Carnival

“The safety and well-being of our team members continues to be a top priority. Given the pause in our operations, we are committed to getting our crew members safely home to their families. We sincerely thank them for their hard work, patience and understanding during this process.  We would also like to thank the government of The Bahamas for their support of this operation, as well as the CDC, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and local port agencies,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.

Image courtesy Carnival

Crewmembers who will be returning home have undergone a health check and have been cleared fit for travel by Carnival’s medical team, the firm says. Over the course of the long voyage, crewmembers will have their temperature taken every day.

Before Carnival Cruise Line halted operations on March 13, its 27-ship fleet had about 29,000 crew members on board. Since that time, it has repatriated more than 10,000 crewmembers via flights. About 6,000 additional seafarers will be repatriated by air charters or by the three ships that have already departed from Australia and the port of Long Beach. After these operations, the Carnival fleet will be reduced to about 3,000 crewmembers necessary for safe manning. (Taken together, all of the brands operated by parent company Carnival Corporation have about 70,000 crewmembers at sea, the company reported in its latest MARPOL probation hearing.) 

As the repatriation effort continues, Carnival Corp. faces a new investigation by the House Transportation Committee into its health policies, communications and decisionmaking during the beginning of the pandemic. Committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has asked Carnival to produce all correspondence and documentation related to its COVID-19 response, with document production beginning by May 15. 

In a response Friday, Carnival said that it is cooperating with the committee and shares its goals of protecting public health and ensuring compliance.