Cruise ship Astoria detained in Tilbury over crew welfare concerns

Portugal-flagged cruise ship Astoria (IMO 5383304) has been detained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) at Tilbury Docks, England, over what were described as serious concerns for the crew’s welfare.

The vessel was being held as a preventative measure, the MCA said. A full inspection was scheduled to be carried out.

The All India Seafarers Union had tweeted last week that 164 crew members on the Astoria had been “stuck in foreign waters (for the) past 90 days and need help”

Four other ships at the Essex port and one in Bristol, all from Global Cruise Lines Ltd, were also being inspected.

The MCA said that it had a “duty of care to investigate a number of serious concerns”.

A spokesman for UK-based Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), which operates the ships, said that it was cooperating fully with the inspections.

“The health, safety and welfare of all their passengers and crew is CMV’s top priority,” the spokesman said.

CMV said 1,449 crew were on board the six ships and confirmed 50 crew members on the Astoria had “commenced a strike, including no longer performing routine maintenance work”.

Global Cruise Lines Ltd describes itself as designed “to manage cruise ships around the world and includes complete deck/engine and hotel operations, employing officers, staff, food & beverage brigades, crew, entertainers and other concessionaires”. It lists CMV Holdings Ltd (and its subsidiaries) as “related companies”.

The Astoria has been docked in Tilbury since mid-March, after leaving Mexico in mid-February.

CMV said that the company had “faced an unprecedented emerging humanitarian issue”, with crew members becoming stranded on cruise ships due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

CEO Christian Verhounig said that “our crew have endured a prolonged period quarantined on board our ships during lockdown and are understandably anxious and distressed.” He said the “vast majority of European crew had been repatriated” and that the group was in talks with the Indian government to facilitate the safe return of crew members.

The company also confirmed a crew member on another ship at Tilbury, the Vasco da Gama, had died “following a heart attack”.

The MCA said that “the Astoria was scheduled for departure on June 18th, so we issued a preventative detention, which means it cannot leave until it has a full inspection. At 10:30 BST all ships from that company were boarded by surveyors at exactly the same time, which were unannounced inspections. The surveyors will be looking everywhere and checking everything including crew accommodation, procedures, drills, books.”

The MCA said that if nothing was found during the inspections the ships would be free to leave the ports, but the spokeswoman said it could be “some hours” before checks were completed.

Katy Ware, director of maritime safety and standards, said: “We will always take reports around crew welfare seriously and we have used our powers as the Port State Control authority to carry out this detention so that we can investigate more fully.”

Cruise ships worldwide found themselves stranded in March as cruises were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

CMV has been in urgent talks to raise funds after failing to secure a £25m loan under the UK government’s Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CIBILS). The failure led to the abandonment of a refinancing deal with private equity firm Novalpina Capital and CMV’s creditors.

The Vasco da Gama (IMO 8919245) arrived in Tilbury on May 1st, having sailed from Australia.

Of the other CMV ships at Tilbury, the Astor (IMO 8506373) arrived on May 27th after leaving Réunion in the Indian Ocean on March 14th, while the Columbus (IMO 8611398) has been in Tilbury since April after sailing from Sri Lanka. The Magellan (IMO 8217881) arrived on April 8th from Iceland. Finally, the sixth ship has been in Avonmouth since March 22nd after sailing from Jordan.

1948-built, Portugal-flagged, 16,144 gt Astoria is owned by Islands Cruises Transportes care of manager Sociedade de Consultores Maritimos Lda (SCMA), of Lisbon, Portugal. ISM manager is Global Cruise Lines Ltd of Athens, Greece. It is entered with American Club on behalf of Global Cruise Services Ltd.

1993-built, Bahamas-flagged, 55,877 gt Vasco Da Gama is owned by Mythic Cruises Ltd care of manager Global Cruise Lines Ltd of Athens, Greece. It is entered with American Club.

1987-built, Bahamas-flagged, 20,704 gt Astor is owned by Passion Shipping & Investment care of manager Global Cruise Lines Ltd of Athens, Greece. It is entered with American Club.

1989-built, Bahamas-flagged, 63,786 gt Columbus is owned by Lyric Cruise Ltd care of manager Global Cruise Ltd of Athens, Greece. It is entered with American Club.

1985-built, Bahamas-flagged, 46,052 gt Magellan is owned by Epic Cruise Ltd care of manager Global Cruise Lines Ltd of Athens, Greece. It is entered with American Club.