Family sues cruise company arguing ‘they didn’t pay enough attention’ to 27yo son who died from COVID-19

LMAW

ABC Australia

Photos of 27-year-old Pujiyoko show a young man in his prime, who loved to travel, loved adventure and loved life.

When he left his impoverished parents in central Java, to work as a crew member on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, Pujiyoko was fit, healthy and excited about a job that would take him around the world.

“He loved working on that ship,” his father, Isanto, said.

“A friend told him about the job, and he told us he wanted to go, so I gave him my permission.

“It’s what he wanted to do. He was the breadwinner for the family.”

Pujiyoko worked in housekeeping on the cruise liner, which Royal Caribbean promotes as the largest passenger ship in the world by gross tonnage, and one that offers guests “unforgettable experiences for day and night”.

But while Pujiyoko’s last days on board Symphony of the Seas were unforgettable, it was in the worst possible way.

‘His plan was to work so he could make us happy’

On March 23, roughly a week after the last passengers had disembarked in Miami, he fell ill with symptoms of the coronavirus.

According to a wrongful death case filed in Miami’s circuit court, he presented to the ship’s medical facility every day for a week, with worsening symptoms.

Fever and body aches developed into severe pneumonia. By March 28 he was put on oxygen.

The following day, still on board, he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

But it was only on the evening of March 30 that he was finally taken ashore on a lifeboat and then to hospital, where he was put on a ventilator.

Less than two weeks later, he died with a “severe anoxic brain injury”.

Pujiyoko’s parents are now suing Royal Caribbean, alleging their son wasn’t tested for COVID-19 for a full six days and should have been taken to shore much earlier.

“They didn’t tend to him fast enough,” his father said.

“They didn’t pay enough attention to him.

“Had the company taken him to hospital sooner, he could have survived.”

His mother, Sukarni, sobbed as she looked at photos of her son on board the cruise ship, smiling alongside his crewmates in happier times.

“His plan was to work so he could make us happy,” she said.

“He told me [he] would send me on the hajj [to Mecca] as a pilgrim, because we are so poor.”

Royal Caribbean refused to respond to the ABC’s request for an interview, saying “we do not comment on pending litigation”.

Crew were encouraged to attend parties after passengers disembarked

The Indonesian family’s US-based lawyer Michael Winkleman says not only did the company neglect Pujiyoko, but it did nothing to protect other crew members, even after passengers had disembarked and the fear of the coronavirus on cruise ships was already widespread.

The lawsuit alleges that crew members were even “encouraged to attend parties, shows, events and activities that took place aboard the ship” in the two weeks after passengers had disembarked.

They required crew to be in close proximity and crowded spaces, but without any protection against COVID-19.

“The [US] Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shut down all cruising on March 13,” Mr Winkleman said.

“And yet even after that it was as though there was nothing going on for the crew members, nothing being done to protect them. No social distancing, no quarantine, no masks.”

Mr Winkleman says they even had a party on St Patrick’s Day where there were probably “hundreds, if not even a thousand crew members”.

“Again, no masks, no nothing, no precautions taken to protect the crew,” he said.

The lawsuit states that at least one passenger on Symphony of the Seas had coronavirus symptoms on March 7, a week before passengers disembarked.

All further voyages were cancelled once the CDC was notified of positive cases among passengers.

But Royal Caribbean “failed to follow even the most basic safety precautions,” such as quarantining crew members on its ships, providing them with masks, or requiring them to observe social distancing, the lawsuit says.

Pujiyoko was one of at least five Indonesians to die from COVID-19 on cruise liners, and one of two who died on Royal Caribbean ships.

A Balinese man, I Putu Sugiartha, died on one of Royal Caribbean’s other ships, the Oasis of the Seas, on April 18, more than a month after he boarded the ship.

The ABC has been told his family settled out of court with the shipping company.

More than 100 other crew members on Oasis of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19 while on board, the lawsuit alleges. A Filipino crewman, Dexter Joyosa, also died.

Suicides, despair for thousands of crew still stuck on ships

There are also concerns for those crew members still stranded on cruise ships.

Reports have emerged of apparent suicides and protests by crew members who are still stuck on board, unable to leave.

While cruise ship companies have been negotiating for weeks with governments to offload passengers around the world, tens of thousands of crew members remain on ships.

“Mental health is a huge issue on those ships,” Mr Winkleman said.

“You have crew members now, going on plus two months they’ve been trapped on these ships, away from their families, the vast majority of them not being paid.

“Half the time they’re quarantined in a tiny little cabin, and these are not the passenger cabins, that are much more spacious, these are tiny little cabins.”

One crew member on the Regal Princess — a Ukrainian woman — threw herself overboard in the Netherlands on May 9. Rotterdam police have ruled the death a suicide.

Another crew member — a Polish man — apparently threw himself off an upper deck of the Jewel of the Seas, another Royal Caribbean ship, in early May, although his body has not been found.

Crew members on a separate Royal Caribbean ship, the Majesty of the Seas, last week staged a hunger strike begging to go home.

A banner posted on board read: “How Many More Suicides are Needed?”

Earlier this month, Manila Bay in the Philippines became the world’s biggest “parking lot” for cruise ships, with thousands of crew still on board. More ships were expected to join.

But shipping companies argue that flight bans and lockdowns have made it impossible to repatriate all their crew.

In an April 17 note titled Crew Repatriation Weekly Update, Royal Caribbean wrote that the CDC had banned all flights for crew repatriation.

The CDC, however, says it is allowing crew members on ships in US waters to disembark and return home if cruise lines “submit a signed attestation stating that they have complied with requirements to safely disembark their crew members”.

Royal Caribbean says repatriation plans are now underway.

“So far, we have successfully repatriated over 16,000 crew members, and we are working with governments and health authorities around the world on our plans,” the company told the BBC.