31 Dec Airo AV Stated: cruise ship crew suicides during the pandemic – Agence SEO …
At first, Jozsef Szaller’s crewmates didn’t think much of his absence. Szaller, after all, used to skip dinner on the Carnival Breeze, the cruise ship where everyone lived under the strange and surreal conditions of a floating COVID-19 lockdown. The socially estranged buffet line could take 30 minutes to arrive, and cruise ship workers were allowed to leave their cabins at lunchtime for just an hour or two. Instead of eating, he preferred to use the outdoor breaks to smoke on the deck or have a $ 1.75 vodka soda at one of the bars that was still open. Anything to survive the monotony.
Szaller had been working on Carnival ships since January, but the new coronavirus brought the industry to a halt. After stopping travel in mid-March, Carnival and its main competitor, Royal Caribbean Cruises, did their best to repatriate vacationers, sending passengers home on chartered flights. The crew members did not receive the same treatment. After the guests went home, tens of thousands of workers remained at sea for months. Some described feeling like prisoners or pieces of cargo.
It was on May 9, a Saturday, that his colleagues realized that Szaller had missed his daily temperature checks. His friends said they had not seen him since Wednesday. According to interviews with the crew and official documents, a team was dispatched to check on him, but found his cabin door blocked by something heavy. They managed to open it a bit. A crew member walked over, touched a shoulder, and shook it. No response. Then they went into the next room, stepped out onto the terrace and, with the Atlantic Ocean rising below, climbed over the railing onto Szaller’s balcony. Once inside his cabin, they found the collapsed body of his colleague. Szaller’s face and arms were blue. Blood ran from his mouth onto his white T-shirt. It had a belt around the neck.
Two time zones away, in Domsod, Hungary, Jozsef’s parents Vilmos and Ildiko were tidying up their weekend cabin and storing the fridge in anticipation of their son’s post-trip quarantine. They thought a country break would cheer him up after his isolation at sea, and they could watch him from his home near Budapest, an hour’s drive away. But when they returned home that night, the police were waiting for them. An officer had Vilmos call a Hungarian consulate in the United States, who gave him a number for the Carnival. He called and was contacted by what appeared to be a room full of company representatives, along with a Hungarian-speaking interpreter. « They said they found my son dead on the boat, » recalls Vilmos.
He struggled to make sense of what he was hearing. Jozsef was 28 years old and in perfect health, at least from what his parents knew. Something terrible must have happened. It was an accident? Could foul play have been involved? Carnival offered few details. « We were told 15 times that we are not told for our protection, » says Vilmos.
He says he pushed until something like a story came up. « I asked them where they found the body, » he recalls. « They said, ‘In the room.’ Where in the room? In the bed? ‘No, not on the bed. « In the bathroom? » Not in the bathroom. « On the floor? They finally said,’ Yes, on the floor. ‘” They mentioned that the crew had entered from the balcony, so that Vilmos assumed that Jozsef had been pressed against the door, blocking his entrance. He asked if there was a doorknob involved, had his son hanged himself with it? « They didn’t answer clearly, but they suggested it, » he says. Jozsef, so that her parents knew, she had taken her own life.
Vilmos says communications with Carnival were cut short shortly after. As the Szallers tried to organize the recovery of their son’s body, including determining which jurisdiction would have to declare him legally deceased, they began to see that the cruise company had played a role in their son’s death. His labyrinthine corporate structure, a network of international entities designed to reduce Carnival’s tax liability, compounded his pain.
« We are saddened by the passing of our crew member and extend our condolences to his family and loved ones, » said Chris Chiames, director of communications for Carnival Cruise Line, the subsidiary that operates Carnival-branded ships. Chiames says that the health and safety of the crew was a priority during their repatriation and that the company provided regular communication and counseling resources on self-care. It adds that Carnival supported the Szallers in returning Jozsef’s remains and personal belongings and responded to additional family concerns.
On December 21, the Szallers filed a lawsuit for arbitration with Carnival, alleging that the company forced Jozsef to stay in his cabin for extended periods, failed to routinely monitor his well-being despite days away, and failed to provide adequate training on how deal with the mental effects of isolation. Chiames says Carnival « did everything possible to make this situation as comfortable as possible » and that Jozsef’s interactions with onboard medical staff and human resources never suggested he had mental health problems. Chiames says the company would have taken swift action if there had been signs of trouble.
The Szaller family is seeking monetary damages, but Vilmos emphasizes that he is only interested in the truth behind what caused this tragedy. « Nothing will bring my son back, but it may give us some peace, » he says. “If the cruise company did something wrong, I don’t think we will ever know, because it is such a large entity and there is such a vast financial network behind it. They just ignore us. «
Cruises were an epidemiological nightmare during the early days of the pandemic, combining prolific international travel with line dancing, endless buffets and indoor karaoke, and they have also been a disaster for the mental health of some members of their crew. Separated from families, mostly…