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Royal Caribbean Cruises has been hit with its first crew member death lawsuit in connection to an Indonesian worker who contracted the novel coronavirus during the two weeks that employees were kept on board the ship in Florida after passengers had disembarked, a lawsuit states.
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When passengers had emptied from Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas in Miami on March 14, Fnu Pujiyoko and the other crew members still aboard the ship were allowed “to roam free” for two weeks – and even “encouraged to attend parties, shows, events and activities” that resulted in employees standing and being close to each other, according to the lawsuit filed late Monday afternoon.
Just shy of one month later, 27-year-old Pujiyoko was dead.
His father is now suing Royal Caribbean for wrongful death, claiming the cruise line was “careless” and failed to protect its employees despite receiving “prior notice pertaining to the dangerous conditions and/or explosive contagiousness associated with COVID-19 aboard its vessels,” the suit states.
Royal Caribbean declined comment.
“The dangerous conditions associated with COVID-19 also include its extreme contagiousness. For example, a person with COVID-19 infects, on average, another 2.5 people, and COVID-19 is therefore more contagious than Ebola or Influenza,” the 25-page complaint states. The cruise line “negligently exposed and is currently exposing thousands of its crewmembers to COVID-19.”
Pujiyoko, who had been with the company for five years, had signed his most recent contract with Royal Caribbean in July 2019 and expected to work through March 21, when the agreement expired. But the cruise line instead terminated his contract on March 13, 2020, which nullified any arbitration provision, the lawsuit states.
Meanwhile, aboard the ship on March 23, Pujiyoko visited the vessel’s medical office for his “flu-like symptoms,” and tested positive for the flu the next day.
On March 28, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and “relied on” additional oxygen while at the ship’s medical facility. He was admitted to the intensive care unit the next day, at which point he tested positive for COVID-19.
By March 30, Pujiyoko was taken from the ship to Broward Health Medical Center. He died on April 11.
“Despite having notice that COVID-19 was and/or likely was present aboard the vessels, RCCL glaringly failed to follow even the most basic safety precautions after acquiring such notice,” the suit states. Instead, Royal Caribbean "allowed its crewmembers to eat in buffet settings aboard the vessels, mandated their participation in shipboard drills, and even permitted crewmembers to attend crew parties.”
The suit cites a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention memorandum from Feb. 13, 2020, titled, “Interim Guidance for Ships on Managing Suspected Coronavirus Disease 2019.”
The memo provided guidelines for how ship operators should handle suspected COVID-19 cases, court papers show, and outlines how crewmembers and passengers should be isolated or even denied boarding. The CDC later released findings that indicated “increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment” and, on March 14, issued a “No Sail Order.”
Royal Caribbean announced in early February that it had canceled eight cruises out of China through early March and was taking more precautionary steps because of the virus outbreak.
Cruise line officials also announced the creation of a contingency plan and said they would be requiring passengers who had traveled to China to submit to specialized health screenings. Anyone traveling on a Chinese or Hong Kong passport, regardless of when they were last there, and guests who report feeling unwell or demonstrate flu-like symptoms, would also be screened, officials said at the time.
Royal Caribbean said the same measures apply to company employees, crew members and contractors.
Meanwhile, some cruise lines have begun preparing to resume their seasons, with Carnival Cruise Line announcing Monday plans to set sail again in August, just days after the CDC's no-sail order is set to expire on July 24.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.