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Corona virus: How one cruise ship crew fought back

As the current crisis of the Corona virus spreads around the globe, strategies of managing the outfall are coming in to play for many in the shipping industry. In a move away from the usual topics covered by Fathom World, Samantha Fisk looks at how confusion and fear impacted one cruise ship.

One of the latest cruise companies to be hit by the fallout of the Coronovirus pandemic has been the French cruise company Ponant, which put out its announcement that due  to the scale of the crisis it was stopping all cruises as of the 15th March.

The knock-on effect has seen cruise ships having to halt in mid-itineraries leaving both crew and passengers stranded in various locations. One Ponant vessel that found itself in this position as been Le Laperouse which had been currently been cruising around New Zealand and had left Auckland travelling to Dunedin, where it received instruction to stop.

“We were already aware that cruises around the world had ceased”, comments one anonymous crew member talking to Fathom World. “Being in a safe zone we were one of the few ships still at sea.”

The announcement was made one evening that the cruise was to be terminated with the captain making the announcement which allowed passengers to return home as airports were closing.

“Another announcement was made for a crew meeting late that night. The Captain informed us in the theater that the cruise will end abruptly for safety reasons and that they were finding a solution for the crew”, explained the crew member.

Fortunately, the vessel has not had any reported incidents of the Corona virus. The crew also had to deal with a 12 hour time difference between the vessel and the company’s location in France.

Better the ship you know…..

“They [Ponant] made plans but as the world crisis was constantly changing literally by the hour, it was difficult for the company to respond appropriately as each decision had to be cancelled almost a few hours later in light of global events”, adds the crew member.

However, the repatriation of crew has been a challenge for Ponant.

“We were told that all non-essential manning would return home. But, since the majority of the crew are French or Filipinos, the company was essentially sending us from a safe location to (or through) some of the most infected countries in the world. This did not go down well with the crew, and even the captain had disagreed with the office’s decision”, explains the crew member.

“The crew found this irresponsible from Ponant and showed a lack of care. There was a discussion with the office, and for a couple of days the crew did not have any news as to the discussion being made. The crew morale had dropped significantly, and no one knew their fate to come.”

Le Laperouse is currently the only vessel in the fleet with crew still onboard with all other vessels having now sent crew home. The crew member comments that: “Ponant had agreed to the Captain’s request to keep the crew on board, and any crew wishing to disembark could in Wellington.”

As with many companies at the moment – as the pandemic stretches further – company staff are working day-by day with ever changing contingency plans, trying to tackle the issues that it has brought.

“The ship is free of virus and passengers; therefore, we are technically no longer a cruise ship but a “luxurious cargo ship” as described by the Captain of Le Laperouse.

The contingency plan appears to be to travel the seas to nowhere until further notice.

All dressed up with nowhere to go

“We expect to be out for months. Really, we are no longer in control with countries closing their borders. It all depends on the Coronavirus”, explains the crew member who spoke to Fathom World about the future plans for life onboard the vessel.

It has already been noted that this ongoing dilemma may also lead to other issues relating to mental heath among stranded crews, no matter how stoic they may be.

“We are all fully aware the next few months will be hard, but we accept the situation as it is and remain strong as a crew. there are always things to do around the ship in term of safety and maintenance. It is not a free holiday for us. The ship still needs its crew.”

About Author

Craig Eason Stockholm
Craig Eason is the owner and editorial director of Fathom.World. He has a background in the shipping industry having started his career as a cadet on oil tankers and gas carriers before becoming a navigating officer on a range of vessel types. A change in career, with ensuing university studies, and he has now gained 20 years experience in written and broadcast journalism. He now is in demand as a knowledgeable and competent editor and event host and moderator, both for in-house events and ones for the public.