In a move that some have called a sexist targeting of female employees freedom to engage in sexual intercourse, Norwegian Cruise Line has without warning cut shipboard staff’s access to emergency contraception such as Plan B.
The move is inherently bias toward female employees as they must now face the consequences of pregnancy if their own family planning measures fail, or abstain from sexual relations for the duration of their several-month deployment at sea.
According to a memo from the company’s head office in Miami, employees no longer have access to emergency contraceptives—for free or for purchase—unless they had been raped or sexually assaulted. The change went into effect on November 1, according to Jezebel.
Norwegian Cruise Line has not responded to Cruise Arabia & Africa’s requests for comment.
Employees who spoke anonymously to Jezebel said the change in policy, one of many of late, was likely the result of Frank Del Rio’s taking over the company in January last year.
The new policy may be an attempt by the cruise line to re-direct funds. In an apparent swipe at former Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan, Del Rio in an interview with the Miami Herald last year said that there had been “underspending” in important areas in recent years.
Under Del Rio, all aspects of the cruise line’s ships, from flatware, carpets and linens, have been examined and replaced. “You have to spend a little money on some areas to be able to facilitate the on-board experience,” Del Rio told the Miami Herald. “Perhaps there was some underspending in prior years that we’re playing some catch-up on.”
“We do not have access to a CVS or Walgreens while we are out to sea for months at a time,” one employee wrote in an email to Jezebel. “Often crew members are limited as to when they can and cannot get off the ship. For example, non U.S. citizens are not allowed off the ship in New York City.”
Sexual healthcare on cruise ships is questionable to begin with, even for guests, according to The Telegraph, which reports that only six of the biggest cruise lines (Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Holland America, Disney, and Crystal Cruises) make condoms available for guests to purchase, and even fewer provide emergency contraception.
“Medical facilities on board today’s cruise ships are highly developed, but contraception and STI prevention among passengers are a long way from being the main focus,” said Dr. Richard Dawood, the Telegraph’s travel health expert.
The key difference is that cruise passengers are generally on-board for a maximum of 14 days and are commonly able to disembark in a different port every day. Employees cannot get off the ship at most ports and are tied-in to a contract from several months to several years.
“Our job aboard may prevent us from being granted shore leave for weeks or months,” the anonymous employee told Jezebel. “If we are granted shore leave we may only have a few hours on a remote island on a Sunday morning, for example. Certainly not enough time to see a physician or even go to a proper pharmacy. For these reasons, female crew members rely on the on-board health centre to provide that care.”
Thanks to Norwegian’s removal of emergency contraceptives, which may or may not be part of a larger overhaul of the company’s approach to healthcare, female employees have no recourse should their chosen birth control fail while at sea.