A cruise ship head waiter repatriated home following a protracted stranding in London

Izad’s story hallmarks the enormous difficulties that Coronavirus has brought to seafarers throughout the world.

When he spoke to us, in October, Izad* was in quarantine in Mauritius, having finally been repatriated home following a protracted, unhappy stranding in London.

The 42-year-old had become a merchant seaman in 2013, seeing it as a viable way of earning enough money to ensure a secure future. Average incomes on his nearby island, Rodrigues, are insufficient to buy or build a house or start a family comfortably. Izad signed up for his most recent contract, as a cruise ship head waiter, in February 2020 – shortly before Coronavirus bloomed into an international health crisis. Within weeks, it turned round and sailed back to London, where it stayed in port for six months.

He said: “It was very difficult because we were confined to our vessel for so long with no real contact with the outside world. We did not know what was going to happen, when we could leave or whether work would restart, which was very stressful.

“On top of that, we received only a third of our salaries – the employer kept our money back saying that without paying passengers, it had to reduce agreed pay. This meant we could not get food deliveries to replenish ship stocks, so we all went on half rations.

“Many people had families who rely on the money they send home – which they were unable to do for months. So we were hungry and, for hundreds of us, there was the added worry of dependants also going hungry and without essentials. It was a vicious circle – made even worse by the fact that onboard internet access had been cut, so we were unable to speak to our loved ones.

“A huge fear was that Coronavirus would sweep through the ship like wildfire. With 500 people in a confined space, all living at very close quarters with one another, we felt vulnerable and exposed and were very scared of this highly contagious, sometimes lethal disease.”

Tensions ran high, with many arguments among the multinational crew. It all made for a highly stressful, unhappy atmosphere for everyone stranded onboard. Although they tried to distract themselves, staying busy with housekeeping, cleaning and football and basketball games on the decks, an underlying oppressive anxiety was ever present. Finally, one crew member cracked and threw himself overboard, which hit all aboard very hard.

Seafarers UK’s insight, knowledge and hundred-year experience working across the maritime welfare sector means support gets to where it is needed swiftly and effectively for maximum impact. This ensures your donations really work hard. Seafarers UK worked with our expert partner Queen Victoria Seamen’s Centre. Their specialist support team visited Izad and his shipmates and tackled the bankrupt cruise company about withheld salaries, which were eventually paid. They also arranged for chaplains to counsel crew members and provided free internet communications so that the seafarers could at last talk to their families and loved ones again.

Izad continued: “This contact, shore leave and social interaction with people away from the ship lifted our morale massively. From a practical view, being able to speak to our embassies to arrange repatriation and finally getting the money we were owed were also a huge relief.”
He does not know whether he will ever sign up for another ocean-going contract, certainly not while the pandemic rages. If he does, though, Seafarers UK will be there to help him and the 1.5 million others of all trades and disciplines who continually convey passengers and the vital goods we all rely on around the world safely and reliably.

*name changed to protect anonymity

It was a vicious circle – made even worse by the fact that onboard internet access had been cut, so we were unable to speak to our loved ones.