Five Hungarians stranded in quarantine on a coronavirus-infected cruise ship near Florida

Five Hungarian crew members are stuck in quarantine at sea near Miami due to the coronavirus epidemic: the passengers of the Oasis of the Seas cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean International have been sent home, but some of the crew had to stay on board. According to American newspapers and the Hungarians working on the ship, the virus spreads quickly onboard, at least seventy people have been infected, and one person had to be taken to hospital. On Tuesday, two planes took off from Budapest to take home 257 Hungarians trapped in North America: one of the ship’s crew members had successfully registered for this plane, but due to the quarantine she can’t travel or even go ashore now.

A Hungarian employee of the Oasis of the Seas cruise ship who wished to be unnamed informed  about being  quarantined off the coast of Miami because of coronavirus infections. The world’s third largest passenger ship, owned by the Royal Caribbean International, can carry more than 6,000 passengers. The ocean liner anchored off Florida’s coast, with only some of the remaining crew aboard.

They were promised to be able to go home

“In mid-March, the company suspended its operations for 30 days, which has since been extended to 60 days, but I think it will be much more. Without passengers and with almost the full crew (he was lucky because his contract expired that day and went home), all the ships in the fleet are now anchored somewhere around the Bahamas” – told a Hungarian member of the crew.

All the employees’ temperature was checked daily,  and it was also announced that everyone was healthy and there was no reason to panic. The employee stranded off the boat has not been paid since mid-March, but was promised that they would be able to go home from the nearest port on March 24, and that the company would pay for the flight home. However, on March 24, only the lucky ones were able to go home. The total number of crew was 2,300, of which about 600-700 could leave the deck.

“Some of the people waited for seven hours in the theatre hall of the ship before they were told they could not go because there were no tickets or because their country was under a lockdown (for example: Italians, Peruvians, Moroccans, Ukrainians), for some reason the Hungarians were not allowed  to go either. The company claims to guarantee a safe return home, but  did not get a ticket for them when it was still possible to travel.”

The consulate cannot evacuate them

On March 24, the ship sailed back to the open water and waited for the next opportunity to dock. The Hungarian crew on board contacted the Vice Consulate of Hungary and the Attaché  in Miami and asked for consular protection. The Hungarian state is sending a plane for Hungarians stuck in the U.S.  by April 1. , these tourists and visitors can come home for $ 880.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó announced on his Facebook page on Monday that all Hungarians stranded anywhere the world would get help to get home.

“I registered for this flight, my application was accepted. Unfortunately, on March 28, it was revealed that our “super safe and disinfected” ship was infected. There were two in the morning, 16 in the afternoon and 51 in the evening, and on March 29 we already knew  about 70 people who had the virus. Today, there is someone dying here who  would urgently need to be taken to hospital in Miami.  Since we were quarantined, our journey home probably got there, as the Hungarian attaché said that if the ship was quarantined, they could not bring us home. Yes, there are Hungarians left behind, and we no longer know who to turn to for help. We don’t know what will happen to us, when and how we can go home. The statement that no Hungarian will be left behind  does not seem to hold true anymore.”– the cruise ship’s Hungarian crew member told

On Tuesday, March 31, the day before the plane departs, he is still negotiating with the vice consulate. His registration for the flight was accepted and he would have to pay for his  ticket before the trip, but if he is unable to fly for any reason, he will not be reimbursed for his travel expenses. The ship is not quarantined by the WHO, however, if the vice consulate does not pick them up, they will not be able to get to the shore.

They are not tested because they are not sick

The Hungarian crew member only estimated the total number of people still  on board. On the first day, they still knew the number of people who were ill,  because the file containing this information was public. The five Hungarians on the ship are fine, they will only be tested if they produce the coronavirus symptoms. The crew members are staying in the passenger cabins, so at least they have a balcony.

“We get the meals in our rooms three times a day. The container is either put on the floor or is handed to us. I prefer to pick it up from the ground. Breakfast and lunch is served quite late. During the day I just surf the net, because the company provides wifi for free, I sit on the balcony, write, film, work out, and try not to go mad.”

In the morning of March 30, the captain announced that the water coming from the tap was drinkable, though it was forbidden to drink from it until then. Also, the Hungarian member of the staff learned that the cooks might have tested positive  for coronavirus.

In a March 29 news release about the Oasis of the Seas, the Miami Herald, Florida, reported  that 14 people were infected with coronavirus on the ship. The information was given by the captain of the ship on the cruise liner, which was recorded by a crew member and handed over to the newspaper.

It is very telling about the company’s communication policy that until this recording was made public, there was no news of the crew stuck on the ship.

According to the report, passengers were able to leave the ship on March 15,  and one of them claimed that even when they landed,  their body temperature was not taken. They only received an email 11 days later from Royal Caribbean informing them that some passengers’ coronavirus test was positive and they asked them to stay at home for 14 days.

We sent our questions to the American company, asking about how many members of the staff were infected and what they were planning to do with them. However, we only received only the same kind of reply as the Miami Herald:

“The health of our crew is our top priority. Those who had symptoms among the workers were examined and are monitored. In accordance with our health and safety protocols, we asked our staff to quarantine themselves in their cabin until the test results are received from the public health authorities.”

There was no more information on the Royal Caribbean International’s website about coronavirus-infected workers on their ships. All they say on the site is that due to the coronavirus epidemic, the company has  suspended its operation on March 13., and on March 24 they decided to extend this until May 11, 2020.

Thousands stranded at sea

On March 13, the International Cruise Ship Association (CLIA) suspended ship departures and arrivals in US ports for 30 days due to the risk of coronavirus infection. More than a dozen cruise ships are looking for an open port because they can’t get a docking permit anywhere due to the  epidemic.

So far, four people have died on a Dutch ship, the MS Zaandam, and many passengers were infected and several South American countries have refused to allow this ship to dock. The Dutch are now trying to get the passengers out. The ship was planning to dock in Miami’s Fort Lauderdale harbour, but the governor announced on Monday night that he would not allow people who are not from Florida to land, foreign tourists would use up the valuable resources in the fight against the coronavirus.

A similar situation occurred in Japan when a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess was stuck  for two weeks off the coast quarantined because of on-board coronavirus infections. The virus spread very quickly on the ship and Japan later admitted it was a mistake to lock it down, making healthy passengers even more vulnerable to the infection.

Written by Szilvia Zsilák, english translation by Gabriella Horn. The more detailed Hungarian version of this article is available here. Photo credit: Wikipedia.