Does NCL’s Crew Repatriation Mean Bad News For Everyone?

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Is the repatriation of crew members from Norwegian Cruise Line ships this week a sign of worse to come? It could very well be. The company’s decision to sign-on thousands of crew members only two months ago in Manila and Mumbai has now been turned back again as non-essential crew members are sailing home.

The repatriation will not have been a decision made lightly by the company. However, it poses a whole new question, why was the decision to board crew members made in the first place, and why has that been overturned?

The CDC is Quiet

Multiple reports have stated recently that the cruise companies are not proceeding to the next step, which is test cruises because they have not received any updated information from the CDC. In turn, the CDC is remarkedly quiet on the subject of cruises; the last updates can be found on the website and are usually to do with crew changes.

In December and November, reports were coming out thick and fast that crew members were called up to go back on board. In the last month, these reports have dwindled to a standstill. At the time, the consensus was a start of cruising in February or March for most cruise lines.

Cruise Ships in Manila Bay
Photo Credit: rahulraju /

However, NCL was one of the few companies that were cautious about the start of cruising. Frank Del Rio stated at the start of November they were looking at early January at best, but likely later. In the same statement, he said it would be at least 60-days before ships would be able to sail with guests, while a full fleet start-up would be 6-9 months. This has much to do with flying in crew or sailing them down from places like The Philippines and India.

If we look at the timeline that Frank Del Rio had, it would be May or June earliest before ships would be ready again.

Reports Paint a Bleak Picture

Various factors that have come to light in recent weeks suggest that cruising could be a long way off. The combination of NCL deciding to send crew members back home after going through the costly process of signing them on being one of them.

We’ve seen reports of financial analysts and ports making projections of cruises not returning until July. Crew sign-on processes being virtually stopped. And statements from cruise lines that the CDC has not provided adequate guidelines. All these make for a bleak forecast for cruising.

Port Canaveral also recently revealed that cruises might not start until July. However, that’s not official from any cruise line and just a prediction.

Carnival Cruise Ships Repatriation
Photo Via: Carnival Cruise Line

Of course, there are still crew members onboard and Carnival Cruise Line which is another major cruise operated in the U.S. is currently planning on a return in May. As John Heald said in his Facebook post, crew members from Deck, Engine, House Keeping, Food Operations, Human Resources, and Environmental departments are there to keep the ships running. But keeping ships running is a whole different level than preparing for sailing.

Isn’t it Much Cheaper to Send the Crew Home?

There have been arguments that it would be much cheaper to send the crew home than to keep them on board. In the Caribbean, the Norwegian Joy will collect crew members from the various vessels in the region and sail towards the Philippines.

It would take the vessel about 25-30 days to arrive in the Philippines at full speed. A large-sized cruise burns on average between 150-200 tons of VLSFO (Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil) per day. At $450 per ton, the repatriation costs NCL approximately $67K to $90K per day.

So, while the financial impact of paying salaries vs. sending crew home may seem to be the reason, the fuel cost alone paints a different picture. It seems like NCL sees no point in keeping the crew on board when they have no insight into when cruises will happen.

Where does this leave us? Well, there is no denying that cruise companies are trying their level best to commence sailing as soon as it’s possible. But looking at the facts all around us each day, it would be difficult at best to predict any major cruise lines sailing before June or even July.

Main Photo Credit: Robert V Schwemmer /

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