A lawsuit filed against a Florida cruise company on Tuesday claims that the staff were “ effectively taken hostage ” after being forced to remain on board without paying thousands of miles from their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to an class action filed with a federal court in Miami, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line employees were subject to “involuntary service” and refused two months’ pay after all their contracts were terminated in March.
The complaint also alleges that the company confiscated U.S. crew member landing permits, meaning that personnel – the majority of whom are from South and Southeast Asia and the Balkans – were unable to leave the ships.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Serbian national Dragan Janicijevic this week, claims that there may have been 10,000 crew members on board the ships.
It also claims that staff were forced to sign agreements stating that they would remain on the ships voluntarily, but that their payment was declined and misled about plans to move them home.
The Grand Celebration cruise ship travels through the Lake Worth Inlet between Palm Beach and Singer Island in Florida in July. A lawsuit alleged this week that crew members are ‘effectively being held hostage’ on board the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line ship due to the pandemic
According to a proposed class action filed with a federal court in Miami, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line personnel were subject to “involuntary service” and refused salary
“LMAW has filed a lawsuit on behalf of crew members of the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line who were forced to sign a document stating that they voluntarily stayed on board,” said law firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman PA, specializing in maritime law and passengers and crew represent on ships.
“Remarkably, there are still crew members who are actually being held hostage on the ship,” it added.
“This seriously delayed repatriation amounts to false confinement of the crew.”
Janicijevic, who worked as a casino dealer at the Grand Celebration, filed the complaint on behalf of all other crew members after they stranded off the coast of Florida earlier this year.
“They kept us on the ship as prisoners, prisoners,” said the 44-year-old, who escaped from the ship in June, The Washington Post.
“You work for food, your movements are limited and they still don’t let you go.”
His lawyer Michael A. Winkleman said locking up personnel on board was tantamount to forced labor and slavery.
“The crew was unnecessarily detained on the ships for months, many thousands of miles away from their homes and families,” the complaint said.
In a statement to DailyMail.com, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line said they would not publicly respond to the matter “out of respect for legal process and the privacy of those involved.”
Pictured, the Grand Celebration cruise ship, owned by Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. The ship is stationed in Florida with personnel detained on board since March
A class action procedure filed this week on behalf of Serbian citizen Dragan Janicijevic claims that the personnel on the ships were kept in closed spaces without face masks or social distance
The suit accused Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line of false captivity
The company is said to have kept personnel on board against their will and for a fee
In a separate statement Bloomberg Law, a representative said the cruise company had “worked tirelessly” to repatriate its employees and “provided accommodation, food and credit on board for incidentals” for those unable to travel home due to closed borders.
It added that “to date, more than 90 percent of its employees have” returned home safely. ”
According to a timetable of events that Janicijevic had provided in the complaint, the Florida-based company suspended all its future cruises on March 14 and seized crew members’ I-95 landing permits the next day after the CDC issued a sailing ban.
It is alleged that the crew members were transferred from the Grand Classica ship to the Grand Celebration on March 16, but did not receive protective gear and that no social distance was introduced.
Around this time, crew members were told that their contracts had been canceled at a large meeting – where no personal protective equipment was also provided – and that they would not receive the full amount for the rest of their contracts.
The complaint continues to claim that the following day, a document was circulated to crew members, all of whom were now on board the Grand Celebration, with the threat that they would not be retaken by the company unless they promised to remain unpaid on the ship.
“I volunteered to stay on board instead of choosing to fly home. By choosing to remain on board without paying until the government lifted the restrictions on me returning home or until the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line returns to normal operation, “the document would have read.
Janicijevic told it Washington Post he agreed to sign the document at the time, as the non-sailing order would only last a month and the ship had no cases of coronavirus, reducing his risk of infection.
But as the order expanded, the on-board situation grew increasingly grim for staff unable to make money or return to their home countries.
He says that some employees continued to work, cook and clean, hoping they would never receive checks.
The lawsuit is seeking compensation after Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line declines wages
“It was repeated every day,” Janicijevic repeated. “It was like a groundhog day, waiting for something to happen. The mental anxiety was exaggerated. ‘
The suit adds that the crew members were provided with food and accommodation on board, but were served buffet meals against the advice of the CDC,
It states that there is a need to pay for other needs, despite the fact that staff have no way of making money.
It adds that Bahamas Paradise Cruise Lin misrepresented to crew members the efforts made to repatriate them.
The suit states that crew members have repeatedly asked to be allowed to go home or off the ship, but even when the Honduran consulate in Miami said it had helped negotiate a repatriation flight for Honduran crew members, the company refused to allow these personnel stand of the vessel and on the run.
While successfully reaching home to Serbia on June 21, Janicijevic said the company declined to pay for chartered flights to let their staff travel, although the CDC has now banned cruise personnel from taking commercial flights.
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line operated two-day sailings from Port of Palm Beach, Florida, sailing to Grand Bahama Island and Nassau.
It has suspended two ships in its fleet – Grand Celebration and Grand Classica – with sailings on both ships due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The company employs mainly foreign-born crew members who agree to approximately eight-month contracts as they work as everything from entertainers to cleaners.
“All cruise lines have tremendous power over their crew members, who will do everything they can to keep their jobs. Everything, ”said Winkleman. “They can treat them [workers] as waste, with little or no story. ‘
The lawsuit comes shortly after the cruise line has announced that it will suspend sailings until October 1, leaving crew members on board for another two months.
In the announcement, it bragged that it is one of the few cruise lines that has not reported any cases of coronavirus on board their ships and the only cruise line in the country to receive CDC’s ‘green status’ based on its No Sail Response plan.
“We met their requirements by providing our crew members with a safe environment to work and disembark through commercial travel,” the company said.
This was also recognized in the CDC’s own statement.
“We have also followed all required guidelines, including adhering to strict requirements for our crew members on board, and have installed the industry’s best safety protocols for our entire fleet to protect our guests and crew, which are always our top priority,” added it ready.
According to the Miami Herald, up to 100,000 crew members remained on ships of various cruise lines, anchored in limbo for months around the US coast following the no-sail order.
Cruise ships were one of the first major outbreaks at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic due to the close onboard conditions between crew and passengers.