Workers Trapped On U.S. Cruise Ship For Months Doing Unpaid ‘Forced Labor,’ Lawsuit Claims



Workers are being “effectively held hostage” on a Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line ship, working without pay and unable to leave, according to a class action lawsuit filed Tuesday, with no signs that the workers will be able to go back home anytime soon, the suit claims.

According to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, workers on two of the company’s cruise ships have been forced to remain at sea for months.

After the CDC issued a “No Sail Order” on March 14, crew members were required to sign a document saying they voluntarily chose to remain onboard “without pay until the government has lifted restrictions” or else they might lose their job, the lawsuit says.

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, based in Deerfield, Florida, had earlier terminated all contracts for the workers, and made those working onboard the Grand Classica move to join another crew on the Grand Celebration, where the lawsuit says there have been multiple meetings at which personal protective equipment was not provided and there was no social distancing.

Crew members are demanding two months’ pay and the ability to depart the ship, since the lawsuit says the document they signed to remain onboard “is unenforceable as it was entered into under undue influence.”

The lawsuit says it’s unclear at this point how many members the class might have, but said it will likely number in the thousands.

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line did not respond to a request for comment from Forbes.

“The crew were unnecessarily kept on the ships for months on end, many thousands of miles away from their homes and families,” the lawsuit says. “Remarkably, there are still crew members effectively held hostage on the ship. This egregiously delayed repatriation is tantamount to false imprisonment of the crew.”

According to the Miami Herald, at the beginning of May, there were over 100,000 cruise workers trapped at sea, and the newspaper said thousands remain so—many without pay. The crisis began with the “No Sail Order” in March. Expecting the health situation to resolve itself in a reasonable amount of time, many cruise lines chose to keep crews onboard and also to avoid a repatriation process that can be legally challenging for cruise lines. Cruise line workers come from countries around the world, which have differing and oftimes complex requirements for repatriation. The “No Sail Order” has since been extended until at least the beginning of October.

The cruise industry has been among the hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and large, publicly traded cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line have had stock prices plummet as they burn through cash to stay afloat. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line is much smaller, operating only two ships, as opposed to the big three cruise lines, which each have fleets of over a dozen ships.