Alexandra Nedeltcheva says her employer, Royal Caribbean-owned Celebrity Cruises, blatantly ignored the warning signs of a coronavirus outbreak.
Celebrity Cruises is being sued by a crew member who claims she contracted novel coronavirus due to employer negligence.
According to Business Insider, the lawsuit was filed by Alexandra Nedeltcheva, a Bulgarian citizen.
Nedeltcheva was working aboard the Celebrity Apex in early March. At a French shipyard, the Apex picked up an estimated 1,400 crew members and independent contractors. It set off on its maiden voyage shortly thereafter.
But Nedeltcheva says that, by March 13th, Royal Caribbean-owned Celebrity Cruises had “acquired reason to suspect the presence of COVID-19” aboard the Apex. Nevertheless, the lawsuit alleges the cruise line was negligent in failing to “flat-out restrict” the movement of non-essential crew members, who were allowed to traverse and leave the ship at will.
Less than a day later, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no-sail order” for American cruise lines.
Yet as the week went on, Celebrity Cruises—docked abroad in different European ports—let crew members travel “on and off the vessel” unfettered. Only on March 24th, with coronavirus cases surging upwards in the United States and E.U., did the company “[order] that all nonessential crew members aboard the Celebrity Apex be quarantined.” Ship-wide testing began the next day.
Business Insider reports that Nedeltcheva tested positive for novel coronavirus at the end of March. And by the beginning of April, hundreds of other Apex employees had, too. Eight cases developed severe symptoms and were turned over to a French hospital on the mainland.
The lawsuit says that, despite the days that’ve passed since, many Celebrity Cruises employees remain vulnerable and exposed.
With potentially thousands of workers exposed to coronavirus, the lawsuit is seeking class action certification.
“The exact number of members of the class is unknown at this time given that many members are currently in voluntary or forced isolation aboard Defendant’s vessels at this time; however, at this time, it is estimated that there are in excess of 10,000 members,” the lawsuit states.
Nedeltcheva told The New York Times that, after being cleared to leave the Celebrity Apex, she had to travel 20 hours by plane and bus to get back to Bulgaria. There, potentially infected and unable to stay with family, she’s had to pay for an Airbnb—Celebrity Cruises, suggests the Times, was unwilling to assist with the expenses.
“Nobody cares about the little people, if they get sick, or don’t get sick,” Nedeltcheva told the Times.
Michael Winkleman, Nedeltcheva’s attorney, said it’s clear cruise companies didn’t heed early warnings about the coronavirus pandemic’s severity.
“It’s really been a nightmare for the crew in a lot of ways,” Winkleman said. “Even the folks testing positive, they are not getting medical care, they are not getting updates. They are halfway around the world from their families, alone, in quarantine. Morale is extremely low on the ships.”
“Celebrity’s egregious failure to protect its employees has already resulted in hundreds of positive COVID-19 cases,” Winkleman said in a separate statement. “And what is more, likely thousands, given that there is limited testing being done on its vessels.”