Filipino crew aboard Diamond Princess, a cruise vessel that has been used to quarantine passengers off the coast of Japan, received news they will be flown back to the Philippines on Feb. 25.
But of the almost 500 workers still on the cruise ship, several more have tested positive with the novel coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.
The Philippines’ Department of Health on Feb. 24 said 59 crew have now been diagnosed with COVID-19, up from 42 the week before.
At least one crew has been taken off the vessel by Japanese health authorities, another crew member with personal knowledge said.
In a series of online interviews with the crew and with their kin, LiCAS.news learned that the workers have been forced to continue to work and were consequently exposed to potential infection.
Crew and kin are now thinking of filing complaints against Carnival Corporation, the world’s second-largest cruise line in terms of net revenue, and its local manning agency, Magsaysay Maritime Corp.
Onboard the Diamond Princess, representatives of Carnival threatened on Feb. 23, when news of new positive cases broke, to withhold “gratitude pay” worth two-months’ salary of crew who stayed away from regular huddles to lessen chances of infection.
Even as workers were told of positive results, they continued to share cabins with crew who had tested negative, said at least two sources onboard the vessel.
Filipinos comprise about half of the Diamond Princess’ 1,000-strong workforce.
Most of the infected crew, remain well, but at least one has been taken off the ship and brought on-ground because of contact with at least one confirmed case, said the Philippines’ Health Department.
More than 40 other Filipino crew had earlier been brought off the ship to still unknown isolation wards in Japan before hundreds of crew lined up for swab tests on Feb. 20.
‘Bring us home’
Philippine Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said “everything is set” to bring home the crew this week.
She said only seven more workers have tested positive. But one of those who did said an afternoon second-swab test of positive cases had around 45 others showing up.
Workers have been told to pack only one carry-on bag by their manning agency, Magsaysay Maritime Corp.
Returning crew will have to undergo a new quarantine process at the New Clark Athletes’ Village in Tarlac province, Central Luzon, health officials said.
A Health department statement on Feb. 21 said the department would provide health human resources and transportation to the quarantine site, on-site medical needs of the repatriates, hospital expenses, and personal protective equipment for the first five days of the quarantine period.
It said Magsaysay Maritime Corporation has offered to handle all transportation expenses of the repatriates from Japan until completion of the quarantine period.
But that is the least of the workers’ worries, said crew and kin.
One of the workers who tested positive appealed for the Philippine government to bring them home, too, citing reports of offloaded crew and passengers complaining of ground isolation facilities as host country, Japan, struggles with hundreds of cases.
“They can send us straight to hospitals even if we don’t show symptoms,” the source told LiCAS.news.
“We’re all going to be quarantined anyway. Better at home than in a strange place where there have been reports of problems from those taken off the ship,” said the crew.
The Diamond Princess has been moored off the Japanese coast in Yokohama near Tokyo since Feb. 4.
The quarantine was criticized as cases of inflection spread among more than 3,700 passengers and crew, eventually hitting the 600 mark before the end of the quarantine period on Feb. 19.
Countries that have brought home passengers and crew since Feb. 20 have reported dozens of new positive results.
Current working conditions
Most crew have nine-month contracts though some have worked for decades on Carnival Corporation’s cruise vessel fleet.
They continued their shifts as cases rose in alarming numbers on board the Diamond Princess, sparking questions about the wisdom of forcing a ship quarantine for 3,700 passengers and workers.
“Even when they were sending packed food to passengers to minimize infection, they were still obliging crew to cook our own food, eat meals together, and attend daily meetings,” said the source.
“We were given N95 masks and gloves, but unnecessary proximity to each other just worsened the situation,” he said.
In Manila, officials of manning agency Magsaysay Maritime Corp. held a dialogue with relatives.
“They could give very little answers and showed anger at social media leaks about workers’ complaints,” said one family member.
The company also ushered out journalists and an officer of a migrants’ advocacy group who tried to attend the meeting.
A statement from the migrants’ group Migrante hailed the crew, saying they had way above their jobs in providing service to stricken passengers.
“It is time for you to demand your due,” read the letter, which has been passed along to crew.
“You are owed clear, timely information on comprehensive protection plans and the government and your employers should commence the swiftest, non-discriminatory medical measures,” it added.
Migrante backed the call to bring home all workers remaining on the vessel, saying the government should allot dedicated flights with medical teams.
The families of at least four workers told LiCAS.news they would explore demands for additional compensation from employers.
“There should be accountability for exposing crew to unhealthy protocol even when ‘reforms’ were underway for paying passengers,” said the wife of one crew.
A daughter of a veteran Carnival worker said the Filipino workers’ resiliency “was abused since the beginning of the quarantine period.”
Citing a note from a passenger calling crew “heroes,” the daughter said, “I don’t want to hear the word while they are not given attention when there’s an emergency situation like this.”