It's been a long six months since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic, especially for the maritime crew members who have been stranded on cruise ships since mid-March. Now, repatriation for over 100 Mauritian seafarers has reportedly being finalized between MSC Cruises, Emirates Airlines and government authorities – though over 300,000 others are still waiting to go home.
About 101 cruise workers were stuck on three MSC ships anchored near Santos, Brazil, since mid-March, when cruise companies suspended international movement due to the COVID-19 crisis, The Guardian reports. One unnamed worker alleged escalating tensions because stranded crew has not been paid in over six months.
Livid with the "lengthy repatriation arrangements" that kept them stuck at sea for half the year, per the New York Post, crew members on the MSC Poesia recently staged a protest on the ship’s deck, wielding banners that read “Enough is enough” and “Send us home, our lives matter.” Other crew members on the MSC Musica and MSC Seaview were also said to be at sea, near São Paulo.
According to steward Ashchaye Mohitram, MSC informed the crew on Thursday that their repatriation plans were "currently being finalized with Emirates Airlines and the local Mauritian authorities," per ABC News. If everything falls into place, the 28-year-old will finally go home on Sept. 16.
Mohitram described being abandoned at sea as "the worst experience of my life," criticizing the lack of transparency and meager fare.
The steward said that the seafarers were sometimes served “only bread and butter” to fill their stomachs, and were other times offered “only pork and beef.”
“I'm just praying to get back on land soon with my family, eating homemade meals,” Mohitram explained.
When reached for comment, a spokesperson for MSC told Fox News on Tuesday that repatriation plans have been finalized for the Mauritian crew in Brazil and that the group is finally on their way home.
“MSC Cruises can confirm it no longer has any Mauritian crew awaiting repatriation on its vessels in Brazilian waters,” the rep said.
“The 101 crew members have all been successfully disembarked and are on their way home, together with 72 other Mauritian crew in Dubai and Italy, following the end of extensive discussions and engagement with the Mauritian government, who have been strictly regulating the whole repatriation process by assigning specific slots to individual cruise lines.”
“We have been battling to get our final crew members repatriated for some months now but due to problems outside of our control, involving the local government and the availability of quarantine facilities at the destination, we were unable to do so sooner,” the spokesperson continued. “This includes, most recently, the last minute decision by the Mauritian government to reassign the seats we had initially been promised for our crew on one of the very few available commercial flights earlier this month.”
The MSC official added that while the crew members awaited repatriation, they were accommodated in individual guest cabins and provided free internet service to connect with their families. The crew members were also served “diverse range of menus” with “fresh provisions” brought onboard from the shore, and given frequent health checks for their wellbeing, the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, thousands of other seafarers around the globe are still said to be trapped at sea.
In a statement released Monday, the International Maritime Organization declared that over 300,000 seafarers "cannot be repatriated" given stringent travel restrictions established amid the ongoing outbreak. Now, the maritime group is calling on the United Nations to intervene.