MIAMI -- Filipino crew members on Royal Caribbean Cruises' Celebrity ships are asking a federal judge to order the company to send them home immediately.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Miami Thursday, Ryan Maunes Maglana, a Filipino crew member on the Celebrity Millennium ship docked in San Diego, said he and his colleagues have been held against their will without pay for more than two months as the company has repeatedly delayed repatriation plans for them. On behalf of all Filipino crew members on Celebrity's 14 ships, Maglana is asking the court to intervene with emergency relief.
Since the cruise industry shut down operations on March 13 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of crew members have remained trapped on ships around the world. Some are from countries with travel restrictions in place complicating their return. Some stuck on ships near the U.S. require charter flights home, per guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cruise companies have said the charter flights are too costly.
At least 578 crew members have contracted COVID-19 at sea since the industry shut down and seven have died from the disease, according to a Herald analysis. Two have died in apparent suicides after jumping overboard.
"Without a doubt, we are witnessing a human rights tragedy of immense proportions unfold before our very eyes," the lawsuit said.
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The lawsuit alleges the Filipinos are being discriminated against because of their national origin. The lawsuit claims the company has acted negligently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, falsely imprisoned the crew members, and failed to provide adequate medical care, among other claims.
U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez has been assigned to the case.
Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity Cruises' parent company, did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit. In an interview with the Miami Herald on Wednesday, Royal Caribbean Cruises Chairman Richard Fain said the biggest challenge to repatriating crew members is navigating each country's changing rules. So far the company has repatriated around 17,000 crew across its 51 ships, while around 26,000 are still waiting to go home.
"The biggest challenge is really the changes that keep coming," Fain said. "We have a plan, and then something comes that changes it."