For the cruise liner industry, the COVID-19 pandemic officially began on March 14. That’s when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no sail” order on all cruise ships operating in US waters. At that point thousands of people were falling ill on various ships around the world, pitching the industry into damage control. From there, individual companies suspended cruises one by one, putting the industry on hold.
We spoke to a man named Jeff Birmingham about what it’s like being one of 99 people onboard a stationary cruise ship designed for 6,000. Jeff describes being alone for most of the day and how the industry is faring from an insider perspective.
Tell us about where you are at the moment.
I’m offshore of Singapore in what I can only describe as the biggest ship parking lot I’ve ever seen. My contract is through February of next year and I’m not sure if I’ll touch dry land before then. As of now, we’ve been told not to expect that.
How does it feel to be on an almost empty cruise liner?
It’s surreal. This ship was built to host thousands of people and I’ve spent years on this ship experiencing it as it was designed. But walking around now, the ship feels lifeless and empty. It’s in stasis waiting for the world to sort itself out so it can go back to what it’s designed to do. Everything is shut down, lights are off, furniture is covered up. It’s a ghost ship.
What do you do everyday? Is there enough work to keep you busy or do you get bored?
I’m not really ever bored. My department usually has about 150 people but now it’s just me to deal with all the paperwork and inspections. It’s an overwhelming amount of work keeping the ship in the kind of condition it needs to stay in so it can go back into service. Plus, since there is very little to do socially the work basically takes all my time. I’ve been here over a month and it feels like I just got here.