Filipino seafarer dies of Covid-19 in San Francisco, groups worry about hundreds on board cruise ship

A Filipino seafarer has reportedly died in a San Franciso hospital due to the dreaded corona virus disease, a group of Filipino-Americans in the Californian city reported.

According to the Filipino Community Center (FCC) based in the said city, the seafarer contracted the virus on board the Grand Princess Cruise Ship that has been docked at the San Francisco Cruise Terminal since the early part of March.

The FCC learned of the unnamed sailor’s demise Saturday morning.

Fox 2 KTVU confirmed the crew member’s death, quoting Grand Princes spokesperson Negin Kamali saying: “All of us at Princess Cruises are deeply saddened to report that one of our team members who was working on Grand Princess passed away, from complications related to Covid-19. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, team members and all who are impacted by this loss. All of us at Princess Cruises offer our sincere condolences.”

Another Filipino crew member of the ship has tested positive with the disease, the League of Filipino Students-San Francisco State University said in its Facebook page.

The Grand Princess Cruise Ship was on its way to Hawaii last February 21 when it learned that two male passengers on a recent trip to Mexico have died of the virus.

The ship sailed to Oakland to let off its passengers and then returned to its home port of San Francisco to start its quarantine procedures.

The Grand Princess is a sister ship of the Diamond Princess that was placed under a four-week quarantine in Yokohama, Japan last month.

According to the FCC, there are still 78 Filipino workers of the original total crew of 1,111 on board and are undergoing quarantine.

A total of 438 Filipino workers earlier left the ship, along with 11 Chinese crew members.

The Grand Princess quarantine ended last Saturday, April 4, the California Office of Emergency Services told a press conference organized by the FCC.

Filipinos in San Francisco demands transparency, testing and treatment for hundreds of crew members still on board the Grand Princess Cruise Ship. (FCC photo)

Wrong strategy

Following the Filipino seafarer’s death, however, labor and community organizations amplified demands for transparency, testing and treatment for the hundreds of workers still on board the ship.

Representatives from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF) and other labor advocates described the cruise ship as an “incubator” for the corona virus.

They cited a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study of the Diamond Princess that exposed the disastrous results of quarantining passengers and crew in ships’ tight quarters.

More than 700 of the 3,700 people onboard Diamond Princess tested positive for COVID-19.

Workers remaining on board the Grand Princess are at high risk of exposure and infection until the ship is decontaminated, the ITWF said.

ITWF Northern California Inspector Samantha Levens added, “This is not a problem created by COVID-19. What we are witnessing is existing inequalities and exploitation of seafarers being heighted and exposed by the pandemic.” 

Swati Rayasam of the Alliance for South Asians Taking Action described the treatment of these workers as “appalling” and “inhumane.”

Terry Valen of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns for his part said, “There are no plans in place, as far as we know, from the Office of Emergency Services to house the workers if they can’t get home because of international travel restrictions. Right now they are being asked to stay on the ship.” 

Filipinos in San Francisco demands transparency, testing and treatment for hundreds of crew members still on board the Grand Princess Cruise Ship. (FCC photo)

Fellow Filipino crew members from the Grand Princess who were repatriated in mid-March shared their concern for those still on board.

“I hope that this all ends soon, that they can all go back home to their families here [in the Philippines] who are left wondering, especially the spouses and children,” an audio message from a former Filipino Grand Princess crew member played during the press conference said.

An open letter to Princess Cruises and the Philippine government also said that more than two weeks after being flown back to the Philippines, the workers are still pushing for testing and treatment.

Only a portion of the over 400 workers who were quarantined in a facility in Tarlac, Philippines, were tested for COVID-19. They have since been sent to their home provinces. 

Crew members from India still on board conveyed their concerns in a video uploaded online three weeks ago.

They pleaded to the Indian government to be “evacuate[d] from the ship as soon as possible.”

Community organizations are echoing these concerns.

The Grand Princess Cruise Ship is one of the many ships currently stranded at sea scrambling for safe harbor.

Thousands of passengers and crew members remain on board in at least 15 cruise ships worldwide, with workers representing dozens of countries and nationalities, the FCC said.

Port closures, flight restrictions and border closures add to the direness and urgency of the situation, the group added.

 “As frontline workers, we in the maritime industry literally keep the world running. And our rights and voices must be at the forefront of the fight against this global crisis,” ITF’s Levens said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)