Will cruise crews go back to their jobs in 2021?

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis the cruise shipping industry has faced big problems. These included widespread travel restrictions, port closures around the world, and on-board cases of infection. Vaccination drives are now underway in many nations. The global pandemic situation is gradually improving. Here is a look at what’s in store for cruise ship workers.

Effects of COVID-19

According to Marine Insight the cruise shipping industry contributes $53 billion to the US economy. Filipinos make up about 25% of the world’s maritime workers. A large fraction of this workforce is employed on cruise ships.  They work in the engine, navigational, catering, and entertainment areas on ships.

More than 325,000 OFWs were forced to repatriate in 2020 as a result of the sudden decline in cruise shipping. Some of these workers disembarked and returned home within a matter of weeks. Others were stuck for months at sea, waiting until they could find an accommodating port to dock at. By June 2020 employees across all major cruise companies were reporting grim conditions. The pandemic put an abrupt end to international cruise ship operations. The contracts of most nonessential crew members were terminated. The Cruise Lines International Association outlined the scale of the impact. By late 2020 the worldwide loss to the cruise shipping industry exceeded $77 billion. 518,000 jobs and $23 billion in wages were lost.

Present situation

OFWs formerly employed in cruise shipping have returned home. Many are now working in stopgap jobs. They wait and hope for cruise ships to start sailing again. In most places the only available jobs are within call center agencies. Qualified and experienced cruise ship employees can earn as much as $2,000 monthly. Repatriated crewmembers are working in menial jobs that earn sometimes as low as $95 a month. Some have started small online businesses selling food and clothing items. However in most cases these occupations are poor substitutes. They barely qualify as means of coping with unemployment. Laid-off cruise workers are stalling until the cruises resume. Employed OFW cruise workers regularly send money to Philippines as remittances. It is important that these vital income streams resume.

Before the pandemic cruise ships worked on a crew rotation system. By the time one batch of workers completed their contracts, another group would be ready to start work. Now everyone is waiting in queue for new contracts. Many OFWs are also waiting to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. Some cruise operators have expressed that vaccination will likely be a requirement for returning to work.

Future plans

Vaccination drives are underway in many countries. The cruise industry plans to recommence voyages. Major cruise operators expect to resume some part of their operations by June 2021, although some routes are not expected to reopen till late 2021. Two Royal Caribbean cruises will resume in June after over a year of hiatus. Costa Cruises plans to resume sailing by May.

The CDC has put a stop to cruise ship operations in US waters since March 2020. The cruise industry’s recovery depends greatly on the effectiveness of the various national vaccination drives.

Meanwhile major cruise operators are facing vast financial losses. Carnival Cruises has declared losses amounting to $4.4 billion. It is resorting to selling some of its biggest ships in an attempt to keep the company afloat. Cruise companies are desperate to return to work and generate some income. This is despite the fact that they are now capped at less than 70% capacity. The 70% rule is to ensure social distancing on-board. As and when cruise ships resume voyages, they will welcome fewer passengers. The travel restrictions and limited volumes would mean there will be a reduced need for manpower on these ships. That means fewer OFW cruise crews will get new contracts.


The goal of the industry now is to rebuild public trust and encourage more cruise bookings. Cruise operators have revamped safety and sanitation protocols to avoid the possibility of future outbreaks. Passengers now have to wear face masks in public areas. Thermal cameras will check passengers before entering on-board facilities. Crews will have additional responsibilities. Everyone is doing their part to get the business back on track.


About the author:

Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.