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Injured cruise ship worker 'forgotten' after seven months in South Florida hotels

Taylor Dolven, Miami Herald on

Published in Business News

From behind the locked window of his 10th-floor hotel room, Paul Cordova watches dozens of airplanes take off and land each day at Miami International Airport.

He can't get on any of them.

An injured Royal Caribbean Group crew member, Cordova, 48, has been living in South Florida hotels since January. He traveled from Peru to the U.S. to receive follow-up treatment for back surgery he had in November 2018. Back then, doctors replaced two herniated disks in his spine with titanium plates, repairing damage from years of lifting and lugging 50-pound chlorine containers aboard Celebrity Cruises ships.

For 95 days, he has repeatedly asked the Miami-based company to send him home to Peru, where his wife and two teenage children are waiting for him. Though five repatriation flights for crew members have left since April, the company either did not respond to his pleas or said his repatriation was impossible at the time. After receiving questions from the Miami Herald on Friday about Cordova's situation, the company indicated it is going to send him home on Sept. 1.

"We have been working with Mr. Cordova to get him home in a challenging international travel environment and currently understand the next opportunity to do so is on Sept. 1," said company spokesperson Jonathon Fishman in an email. "We all share the same goal of getting him home as quickly and safely as possible."

Cordova has become yet another casualty of the cruise industry's chaotic journey through the COVID-19 pandemic. His name could be added to a list of more than 100,000 cruise ship workers who have spent months stranded away from their families.

 

After the industry shut down in mid-March, cruise companies repatriated all passengers by early June. But the process for repatriating crew has been much slower due to limited, expensive travel options and virus-related restrictions in the U.S. and in their home countries. Thousands of crew members are still stuck at sea without pay, waiting to be sent home. At least 29 have died from COVID-19, and at least two have leaped overboard in apparent suicides.

More than a dozen crew members, including Cordova, are still stuck in Miami lodgings, unable to get home.

U.S. labor protections do not apply to cruise ship workers because cruise companies are registered and flag their ships abroad. Royal Caribbean Group is incorporated in Liberia and flags its ships in Malta and the Bahamas. Under the Maritime Labor Convention of 2006, the only international protections in place for seafarers, companies are required to repatriate crew. The U.S. is not one of the 97 countries that has ratified the MLC and does not enforce its worker protections.

On a normal pre-pandemic day, the Seafarer's House at Port Everglades is a refuge for dozens of crew members taking a break, a place to access free WiFi, send money and packages home, buy toiletries, and receive spiritual support.

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