At first, Jozsef Szaller’s crewmates didn’t think much of his absence. Szaller, after all, usually skipped going to dinner on the Carnival Breeze, the cruise ship where they were all living under the strange and surreal conditions of a floating Covid-19 lockdown. The socially distanced buffet line could take 30 minutes to get through, and cruise workers were allowed outside their cabins at mealtime for only an hour or two. Instead of eating, he preferred using the open-air breaks to smoke on deck or grab a $1.75 vodka soda from one of the bars that was still open. Anything to survive the monotony.
Szaller had been working on Carnival ships since January, but the new coronavirus brought the industry to a halt. After pausing sailings in mid-March, Carnival Corp. and its main competitor, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., went to great lengths to repatriate vacationers, sending passengers home by chartered flights. Crew members didn’t receive the same treatment. After the guests went home, tens of thousands of workers stayed at sea for months. Some described feeling like prisoners or pieces of cargo with no ETA.