Cork dancer stuck on cruise ship in US feels like 'hostage at sea'

Cork dancer stuck on cruise ship in US feels like 'hostage at sea'
Lee Barrett and a colleague perform a dance upon the ship on which they are stranded.

A Cork dancer who’s stuck on board a cruise ship in America has said he feels “trapped and scared” and wants to come home as soon as possible.

Lee Barrett, from Mahon, said that while the cruise company he is working for is treating staff very well, the USA’s health protection agency is effectively holding the crew hostage at sea.

Mr Barrett started a job as a dancer on-board Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas and flew to Galveston, Texas to join the ship in March.

Cork dancer Lee Barrett
Cork dancer Lee Barrett

However, on his way over it was announced that all sailings were cancelled for guests, and crew members would remain on board for 30 days.

Attempts to fly crew members, including Lee, home since then have proven unsuccessful after being denied by the USA’s health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lee has now been at sea for almost 50 days, 26 of which were spent in isolation. He said he feels the CDC is being very difficult.

“I understand all action needs to be approved by them, but they are currently holding crew members hostage at sea. The CDC will not let American citizens back into America, and they have banned all seafarers on commercial flights. We had two cases of the virus on board, who were taken ashore for medical attention and have recovered,” he said.

Mr Barrett said that any crew members who wish to stay on board can, but praised Royal Caribbean for doing “everything in their power” trying to arrange flights to get all other crew members home.

“They have had our health and safety as their number one priority; when I was in isolation, meals were dropped to the door 3 times a day, with beverages and necessary toiletries. We have free access to Wi-Fi, and any other basic amenity we request in an effort to provide as comfortable of a living condition as possible, given the circumstances,” Lee said.

Cork dancer Lee Barrett.
Cork dancer Lee Barrett.

Some of the restrictions imposed on the crew by the USA’s health protection agency range from not being allowed to enter the public airport terminals, to not being allowed to stay in a hotel overnight before a flight.

“I do not understand what further steps the CDC expects Royal Caribbean to take, but right now I feel trapped and scared. While we are being well looked after, and I am so grateful for that, this is not home, and that is where I want to be,” Mr Barrett said.

Yvonne Coughlan, Chair of the Board of Directors for Firkin Crane dance theatre in Cork, told The Echo the story was brought to her attention by another theatre board member.

“My heart goes out to all those crew members, being caught at sea during this international crisis, and we at the Firkin Crane wish our Cork dancer could be at home with his family at this difficult time.

“Lee, as we understand it, is the only Irish Crew member on Liberty of the Seas, and while we are all grateful to Royal Caribbean for taking such good care of Lee and all their crew, we want to support every effort being made by our Foreign affairs department to get Lee home,” she said.

It’s understood the Department of Foreign Affairs and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have been providing consular assistance to Irish citizens, including Lee, stuck in similar circumstances and the Consulate General in Austin has also been in contact with Mr Barrett.

On Friday, Sinn Féin TD for Cork South Central Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs again to urge them to re-engage with the CDC and try to overcome the difficulties faced in bringing Mr Barrett home.

“This is not a sustainable position for any of the people on board to continue like this. All checks do need to be carried out on the passengers but, provided that it’s safe, I think there is an urgent need to return Mr Barrett (to Ireland), and every effort should be undertaken to do so,” Deputy Ó Laoghaire said.

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