MIAMI -- As cruise companies begin to operate passenger cruises again, thousands of crew members remain trapped on ships without pay as they wait to be sent home.
For crew on Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line's Grand Celebration ship in Palm Beach, the delay has been especially grim. Cleaners and cooks have been working since mid-March without pay, according to two crew members and a lawsuit filed in Miami federal court Tuesday. The suit accuses the company of engaging in "forced labor," among other claims.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Cruise companies have been staying afloat since mid-March when the industry shut down by raising private capital and cutting staff and other costs. Large companies including Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and MSC Cruises are foregoing pay for non-working crew on their ships while they wait to be repatriated. Those companies are paying working crew.
The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line crew members allege the company is not paying crew who have been working since mid-March. Their ship, the Grand Celebration, rarely leaves U.S. waters.
Dragan Janicijevic, 44, a casino worker on Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line ships for the last two years, is the named plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The suit alleges the company forced crew to work without pay, delayed repatriating crew to cut costs resulting in false imprisonment, did not provide crew the two month's severance guaranteed in their employment contracts and forced them to sign misleading agreements terminating their contracts.
The seafarers have little recourse. U.S. labor laws do not apply to cruise ship workers as the companies and ships are registered abroad. The Maritime Labor Convention of 2006 provides the only international workplace protections for seafarers, but the U.S. is not one of the 97 signatories and therefore does not enforce its crew welfare rules. The Bahamas, where the Grand Celebration ship is flagged, is a signatory; the Bahamas Ministry of Transport did not respond to a request for comment.
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line operates two-night cruises from West Palm Beach to Grand Bahama. The company is majority-owned by the family of former Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan.
Janicijevic made it off of the ship and home to his wife and daughter in Serbia in late June after the CDC began allowing commercial travel for crew from ships free of COVID-19. Before the change, companies had to fly crew home on charter flights, an expense some have avoided by keeping crew on board.
In mid-March, after the CDC banned cruises in U.S. waters for one month, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line presented crew members with a form saying they agreed to stay on board without wages instead of requesting a flight home. At that point,the CDC had banned cruising only for 30 days, and the company said crew could start working for wages again as soon as cruising was allowed.