Just a few days after it was reported Royal Caribbean have been forced to suspend the hiring of crew from India due to a surge in cases there, it’s become apparent that four more countries have been added to the list.
According to Cruise Industry News, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Chile are also now considered no-go zones for hiring of crew, with all major cruise lines limiting or suspending the hiring of crew from these countries.
The development comes at the same time as a statement from South African Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize warning of a “worrying spike” in COVID-19 cases in the country.
On Thursday, a total of 2,150 new cases were reported, a 6.6% positivity rate, with more than 2,000 infection reported on Wednesday.
The cumulative number of Covid-19 cases identified in South Africa is 1,590,370. A further 63 Covid-19 related deaths have been reported, bringing total fatalities to 54,620 to date.
South Africa is not alone, COVID-19 case numbers are ticking upwards in a number of key countries for cruise ship crew recruitment, prompting the industry as a whole to follow Royal Caribbean’s lead and suspend crew hiring from these countries.
The suspension of crew hires from India has been confirmed by Royal Caribbean, but the reports of a wider industry ban on hiring from additional countries is based on unverified reports at this stage.
“As it stands now crew from South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and other countries are also banned,” said one crew member in an email to Cruise Industry News. “It makes no sense and it is very very difficult for people to just survive after a whole year without a salary.”
Cruise Industry News obtained emails from cruise line human resource executives, suggesting multiple brands have put a hold on hiring any crew from India, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Why are cruise lines doing this?
The move is in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in those countries, and concerns that any uptick in cases might prompt major cruise destinations such as Europe, Asia and the Caribbean, to impose additional travel restrictions on arrivals from these countries.
It takes several weeks to hire crew, repatriate them from their home country to the country in which the ship is based, get them tested, trained and deployed to the vessel. Any change in travel protocols during that time can cause immense disruption to already complex cruise resumption plans for cruise lines.
What will the impact on the industry be?
The suspension of hiring crew from India was already deemed to be potentially disruptive for cruise resumption plans. Indians account for around 15% of all cruise ship workers, and they hold a diverse range of positions from officers, security, engineering, food and beverage and housekeeping.
South African cruise crew are a much smaller cohort, along with those from Argentina, Chile and Brazil. Cruise recruitment firms are focusing their attention now on the Philippines, Indonesia and China to make up the shortfall.
The Philippines accounts for around 30% of cruise ship crew, and Indonesia accounts for 11%, according to the Norwegian Seafarers Union (NSU).
Cruise recruitment firms, which work with the cruise lines to hire crew for positions aboard ships being brought out of lay-up, are following protocols of testing prior to travel, protective measures while traveling and testing and quarantine upon arrival onboard vessels.
India has been affected worse than any other nation in the world by the current spike in cases, with more than 400,000 cases reported daily for several days running this month.
The major concern for cruise lines is that the COVID wave India is suffering might spread beyond the country to other major cruise crew source countries, which would potentially upend the industry’s restart plans.