YOKOHAMA, Japan — Crew members aboard the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship say they are terrified of catching the deadly coronavirus, yet aren’t being afforded the same protections as the passengers they serve.
Ten have been confirmed as having caught the virus, and others feel sick – but unlike the passengers, no effort is being made to keep them apart from one another, they said.
“Why are they not segregating us? Are we not part of the ship?” said one man, a cook from India, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job. “If passengers have been isolated, why haven’t we yet?”
The cook, one of 1,035 crew members aboard the ship, said that his day starts at 6:15 a.m. and that he works all day cooking meals for passengers, who are largely confined to their cabins, with limited opportunities to exercise.
By contrast, the crew members eat in the same mess, use the same plates and share the same toilets. “Five dining waiters have already tested positive,” he said. “How will we not get affected?”
Japan’s Heath Ministry said Tuesday that 10 crew members were among the 135 people who have tested positive for the virus, including two from Ukraine and as many as eight from the Philippines. Ukraine’s government said two of its nationals, a 37-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man, worked in the kitchen, and have been taken to a hospital in Japan.
The cook said that two or three Indians were also sick but that he didn’t know whether they had the virus.
He said he had worked for the company for three years and traveled to Alaska and to Canada. “It was my dream job but now it has turned into a nightmare,” he said.
On Monday, Japan’s Health Ministry said 65 additional people had tested positive for the virus, nearly doubling the number infected. That news prompted Binay Kumar Sarkar, another Indian crew member, to post a video on Facebook imploring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the United Nations to assist.
Everyone, he said in an interview, is “scared who will be next,” and he requested that all crew members be tested as soon as possible and that the sick be taken to a hospital.
The passengers and crew of another quarantined cruise liner were allowed to leave the ship on Sunday after Hong Kong authorities tested all 1,800 crew members on board and found that none had the virus. Japan’s government says it has the capability to test at least 1,000 people a day but says it would be “difficult” to test everyone on board the Diamond Princess.
A third Indian, who is also a cook, echoed the concerns of his crew mates.
“This was my first job and this has happened to me,” he said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I am stuck here and I don’t know if I will go home alive.”
The man said that he had not been tested for the virus, but that he fears more will soon fall ill. “I am scared, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” he said. “We want to go home.”
Princess Cruises did not respond to a request for comment about the conditions of the crew members, but the Japanese government said it is working to improve their situation.
“We are aware of their concerns, have heard voices that more needs to be done to improve their conditions, and we have been considering measures to address those issues,” Masami Sakoi, a senior official in the Health Ministry, told reporters.
Sakoi said the government needed the crew to sustain operations on board the ship, which was placed on a 14-day quarantine at the Japanese port of Yokohama last week. He said the government is sending a group of experts to assess living and working conditions on board the ship on Wednesday.
“After their assessment of the conditions, we would like to address those issues as much as possible in cooperation with the operating company,” he said.
The quarantine for the passengers is due to be lifted on Feb. 19, but it is not clear if the crew will require an additional quarantine period since they have not been isolated from carriers of the virus.
In a Princess Cruises promotional video highlighting “a day in the life of a crew member,” workers praise the company, the opportunity and the excitement of their jobs – but also reflect the hardship of life on board.
“The work here on board is not easy,” says Norman Lee, a kitchen staffer. “You need to focus, you need to have a positive mind that you can do your job.”
A restaurant worker named Olena Ruban admonishes fellow crew to enjoy their life on board, but then adds a warning: “Be strong. Because here, it’s only the strong people that survive.”
But the first Indian cook said conditions on board the ship were terrible. The contracts for some crew members expired last week but they still have to keep working until the 19th, he said.
“But who will survive by then?” he asked. “I am scared and counting down the days.”
– – –
Dutta reported from New Delhi and Kashiwagi from Tokyo. The Washington Post’s Hannah Sampson in Washington and Robyn Dixon in Moscow contributed to this report.