By GIO BENITEZ, MINA KAJI and AMANDA MAILE, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — The passengers have gone, but the crews remain.
Melinda Mann, 25, of Georgia has been stuck on a Holland America cruise ship, due to the coronavirus pandemic, for 47 days.
The U.S. denied her and other American crew members aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam cruise ship permission to disembark in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Now the ship is anchored off the coast of Mexico.
“I literally could spit on land, and I would have been there,” Mann told ABC News.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must approve requests for crew to disembark at U.S. ports. The CDC requires cruise lines to develop and inform them of a comprehensive disembarkation plan, including arranging non-public transportation, before they grant approval.
The CDC said in a statement that “neither Holland America nor Carnival provided the attestation despite requests.” They added that in conversations with the CDC, “an official of the companies complained that arranging nonpublic transportation for its disembarking crew was too expensive.”
Holland America officials say they continue to work with the CDC to obtain approval to disembark Mann and 47 other American crew members “for immediate return home under their current No Sail Order.”
The cruise line is working to repatriate thousands of crew members who come from more than 100 countries around the world, a Holland America spokesperson explained. In U.S. waters alone, there are more than 120 cruise ships with more than 80,000 crew members on board, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
“It’s not just me that deserves to go home,” said Mann, whose life aboard the ship is limited largely to her quarters.
“I spend 21 hours a day in my cabin,” she said.
Julia Melim of New York was one of seven U.S. citizens allowed to disembark Celebrity’s Infinity in Miami two weeks ago.
A fellow crewmember who was exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms died after being medically evacuated from the Infinity, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Melim was the first U.S. citizen to join a class-action lawsuit against Celebrity Cruises, filed on behalf of more than a thousand employees, alleging the company failed to protect crew members working aboard its ships during the coronavirus outbreak.
On Thursday, a similar class action lawsuit was filed against Royal Caribbean.
That lawsuit alleges that Royal Caribbean threw parties for its crew members aboard the vessels — with more than 1,000 crew members in attendance — even after they suspended cruise operations due to the virus. The lawsuit says Royal Caribbean also continued to allow its crew members to eat in buffet settings and continued to mandate participation in shipboard drills.
“Royal Caribbean’s flagrant failure to protect its crew has already resulted in hundreds of positive COVID-19 cases and what is more likely thousands, given that there is limited testing being done on its ships,” the lawsuit says.
Celebrity Cruises officials said the company does not comment on pending litigation. Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In February and March, the CDC says that coronavirus outbreaks on just two Princess Cruise ships accounted for more than 800 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 10 deaths.
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