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'We don't want to be here': Cruise crews stuck on ships since mid-March
VANCOUVER -- A North Vancouver man says he has been stranded onboard a cruise ship for nearly two months and has no idea when he'll be able to come home.
"This is against our will. We don't want to be here," William Lees told CTV News.
Lees is an art director of the Norwegian Star which was travelling in South America when the Centre for Disease Control issued a "no sail order," suspending all cruise ship operations from U.S. ports.
When that happened on March 14, all the passengers had to get off in Chile, but the employees on the ship weren't allowed to disembark.
Lees said life onboard the vessel has been anything but a vacation.
He said none of the amenities, such as the gym and pool, are open and he is often confined to his windowless cabin.
"It's just doing the same thing again and again. It's a very helpless feeling," he said.
When he sees parts of the U.S. relaxing rules and some beaches reopening to the public, he feels people onboard are facing stricter rules than those living on land.
He said there are stringent protocols onboard: everyone must get their temperatures checked before entering the dining hall for meals and security watches to ensure everyone washes their hands before eating.
"The procedures and protocols and guidelines put on us and the cruise line is not the same what's going on with the general public. It just feels like we're being held hostage," he said.
Earlier this month, the CDC said there were 100 cruise ships anchored off the East, West and Gulf coasts with nearly 80,000 crew members on board. In addition, 20 ships at port or anchorage in the U.S. have known or suspected COVID-19 infections among the crew.
According to Global Affairs Canada Monday, it is tracking 99 ships with 313 Canadians, although that number could be higher since it is voluntary to register.
"We encourage Canadian crew members on cruise ships who are experiencing difficulties in returning to Canada to contact the closest Canadian consulate or embassy, or Global Affairs Canada headquarters, to request consular assistance," said spokesperson Krystyna Dodds.
About a week ago, Lees and some other crew members were transferred to the Norweigan Epic, which had pulled into port in Miami.
He said that was done to bring all the European staff on the same ship back to Europe.
People on his current vessel are from various parts of the world.
"The fact that I'm only one of three Canadians on board makes it hard for the cruise line to send a charter flight for three people," he said.
The CDC had mandated that cruise lines charter crew members home. But things may change.
In a statement sent to CTV News Vancouver by email, Norwegian Cruise Line said the company is working to adapt during the pandemic.
"In the face of challenges around constantly changing domestic and international travel restrictions, we continue to work feverishly to provide safe passage home to our crew who remain onboard our vessels," the statement said.
"In an effort to repatriate crew as soon as possible, we look to leverage our fleet around the world to assist with bringing our crew members home safely."
A few days ago, Lees heard from Global Affairs Canada.
"They said they're attempting to organize a charter flight for Canadians across multiple cruise lines," he said.
He said he is cautiously optimistic as he's already experienced a cancelled transfer and he's heard from another Canadian whose chartered flight got cancelled this week.
He said he hopes to quarantine back on Canadian soil.
"I can isolate in the comfort of my own home, in my garden, see family even if it's at a distance, touch grass, walk around streets – something that's not being confined by the railings of the ship."