Stephen Arendse on the Norwegian Sun. There are many South African’s working on cruise ships around the world who are stranded because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: Supplied
Stephen Arendse on the Norwegian Sun. There are many South African’s working on cruise ships around the world who are stranded because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: Supplied

SA crew member offers glimpse of life aboard a cruise ship during the coronavirus pandemic

By Chad Williams Time of article published Mar 27, 2020

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Cape Town - There are many South African’s working on cruise ships around the world who didn’t get the opportunity to fly back home amid the Covid-19 outbreak. This is the story about Stephen Arendse, a crew member aboard the Norwegian Sun currently docked in Nassau, Bahamas.

Arendse, 38, is from Mitchells Plain in Cape Town, but resides in the town of Robertson in the Western Cape. He is a showband piano player on board the Norwegian Sun. He started working on cruise liners in 2011 after his wife convinced him to try it out.

Arendse boarded the Norwegian Sun on 9 November 2019 as a showband member, the start of a contract that was due to end on 1 May.

“When Covid-19 first appeared in December 2019, we had no idea how much it would impact every single one of us here and back home,” Arendse said.

“This became especially apparent in March, when countries started closing their borders to slow the virus’ devastating progress. That triggered a rush for companies, especially those in the Travel and Hospitality sector to get their staff home before it became impossible to do so. 

"For many of us, going home will, however, not be possible.”

Stephen says many questions flooded his mind as the virus started making international news. “As you can well imagine, at this point your mind starts going into overdrive. My first concern was for my family back home. 

"I have a wife and two kids. How would this virus affect them? How would it affect my extended family? Especially since my parents and in-laws are not as young as they used to be,” Arendse said.

“But I think the biggest question I had was how this virus would affect my chances of returning home as well as how it would affect me personally?”

Arendse says that despite exercising daily in isolation and following a balanced diet, that he is not above the effects of Covid-19 in any way.

He says he is very concerned about his friends back home and how this virus is affecting them, especially his friend who has managed to get flights back to South Africa.

Arendse says his flight was moved up to Saturday, but instead he and about 300 fellow crew members were moved to a sister ship, the Norwegian Epic.

This ship now serves as a hotel for crew. Most of its facilities are locked up and wrapped up in protective plastic, making life slightly difficult as they are reduced to very few amenities.

“Keeping sane is a daily challenge. We’ve only been on board the Epic for four days and I already have a colleague who is miserable, to a point of wanting to go back to our previous ship”.

“Many crew members are concerned about remuneration during this time especially since many of our contracts have been shortened as the company shuts itself down,” Arendse said.

The lock down that started on Thursday forces staff members to remain onboard for at least a further 3 weeks, due to standard quarantine requirements.

Stephen says the news of the extended quarantine has caused much angst on board.

“Keeping positive is all about choosing the correct attitude. It is, after all, a choice. Gym and spending time at the piano keep me from going off the deep end (excuse the pun)," Arendse said, trying to make light of the situation. 

As things stand, no crew will be allowed to disembark before 1 April, effectively extending our quarantine period.

“I think this is a good thing. We are safe, we have a roof over our heads and three meals a day.

“South Africans onboard, we will only be sent home after the lockdown."

Stephen says people don’t really know what happens on cruise liners.

“What people see on our social media pages is only one side of the story.”
 
He says they are under strict rules to be mindful of what they post on social media, so as not to show the company in a poor light.

“We are effectively stuck on a ship, far from friends and family, at this point, literally out at sea with no land in sight. While we are well fed and sheltered, it’s still not home. This is what causes us the most stress, in my opinion.

“Home is meant to be our haven when things don’t go so well and yet, here we are, thousands of kilometres away, stuck on board a ship with a few hundred strangers we hardly even know. Home beats this any day,” Arendse said.

African News Agency (ANA)

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