500 men and women, hired as staff on the MSC Fantasia which arrived in Lisbon in March with 1,338 passengers on board, remain confined to their cabins, unpaid and with no idea when they will be released to return to their home countries.
Turkish freelance journalist Meryem Dutoğlu – a PhD student in political sciences at the University of Lisbon – has exposed the situation saying “the implications of the pandemic and the lockdown highlight social inequalities” in the way that different groups of people are treated.
The 1,338 passengers have all been repatriated, with high-profile media coverage – but the men and women tasked with looking after them on their voyage have been, for all intents and purposes, ‘discarded’.
Says Meryem, “they are most likely non-EU citizens as they have all been told their embassies are informed but borders are closed.
“They are confined individually in cabins, not allowed to step out. Food is provided from outside. They have very slow wi-fi connections which hardly allows them to make WhatsApp calls”.
Contacting some of these people via WhatsApp, Meryem has managed to record one of the daily messages sent out from the captain.
She says what he has been saying for the last month is that “there is no update regarding these crew members return home”.
Some admittedly feel they may be better off in Portugal than their own home country. Others desperately want to return to their families.
For now, there appears to be no case of Covid-19 onboard – not surprising when one realises these people have been confined to the ship for weeks. But the captain’s message that Meryem has managed to record, does appear to talk about one colleague who is ‘sick’. Says the young academic: “At the very least authorities should test these crewmembers”.
The MSC Fantasia set off from Brazil on March 9 bound for Italy. As the virus hit Italy hard, the decision was made to cut the trip short and dock in Lisbon.
Says Meryem, after the captain’s announcement every day, isolated crewmembers are all asked to turn off their mobile phone devices so that the speed of the internet can be increased, “because the company needs it”.
She concludes: “When it comes to 1338 passengers who pay thousands of euros for luxury cruise holiday, authorities announced proudly that they have all been successfully repatriated. When it comes to crew, they are still onboard, without getting paid even a portion of their salaries, awaiting for news that never seems to come about the day they may return home”.
The Resident has tried contact MSC Cruzeiros Portugal but none of the numbers given online get through. With luck an email contact will bring some kind of update.