A New Zealand based photographer who was working on a cruise liner during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak is speaking out about conditions on cruise ships after being stuck at sea for three months.
Shu Ito, originally from Japan, set sail on cruise liner America Holland’s Ms Maasdam on February 1 working as a photographer on board.
However, Shu’s working trip came to an abrupt halt when a series of Covid-19 outbreaks on cruise ships forced many ports around the world to ban the liners from docking.
While passengers were able to return home from their cruises, many staff are stuck on ships across the globe with many countries putting restrictions on crews from disembarking due to Covid-19. Among them is New Zealand which has closed its ports to cruise ships until June 30.
When his cruise was disrupted back in April, Shu says staff were told the plan was to sail to Asia where the crews, including Australians and New Zealanders on board the America Holland liners would disembark.
Instead Shu and fellow crew members were forced to shift from one American Holland liner to another.
“All the Asian crews from several ships were transferred to Westerdam on the 29th of April,” Shu says.
“No information was provided, and we just wondered and worried about what will happen next.
“But then we were forced to shift to Noordam on the 23rd of May. They were trying to disembark all the Filipino crew members here in Manila, but no information was provided to non-Filipino staff.”
Shu says Noordam is teeming with 1600 crew from six ships including staff from the Princess Cruise ships.
The conditions on board the cruise ship is shocking Shu says.
“The life that we are having on board isn't easy. Many people are getting stressed and suffering, and still wishing to go home to see our family.
“The food I have to say is horrible.
“My cabin on Noordam is a crew cabin which is located in the bottom of the ship. Of course, no window, shared bathroom and shower.”
Shu doesn’t have free access to WiFi making it difficult to connect with family and friends as well as the outside world.
He says he's heard about staff committing suicide on some of the cruise ships which have been unable to dock.
Last week the BBC reported two crew members from the Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas and Princess Cruises jumped overboard in apparent suicides. These deaths reportedly came after delays in some cruise liners’ repartition plans for crew members.
“It is very easy to get depressed and feel lonely in this situation,” says Shu.
Despite living in New Zealand for five years, Shu isn’t a citizen so hasn’t spoken to the New Zealand Government about returning to Taranaki.
He hopes to return to Japan once he’s allowed off the ship, but until he and the crew on board can dock and disembark, they’ll be stranded on board.
“I really hope this situation won’t last long. I’m stuck on the ship without touching the dry land for almost three months now.”
Reports from mid-May by the Miami Herald say around 100,000 crew members remain trapped at sea due to the Covid-19 pandemic.