'This is extensive': Royal Caribbean transferring COVID positive crew to out-of-service cruise ships

Morgan Hines
USA TODAY

Royal Caribbean International is moving crew members who have tested positive for coronavirus to two of its out-of-service ships, Vision of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas, to quarantine as the pandemic continues to surge.

The cruise line confirmed the transfer of crew in a statement shared with USA TODAY by spokesperson Lyan Sierra-Caro and noted that the logic behind the move is to "keep our crew and ships as healthy as possible."

Royal Caribbean transferred the crew from a "variety of our ships in the Caribbean" to their two out-of-service vessels, according to Sierra-Caro, who added that the cruise line has been completing crew transfers for about three weeks.

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Sierra-Caro said she could not specify the number of crew members who have been transferred given the exact number changes as they are moved back to their assigned ships once they finish their quarantine period.

She noted that on Wednesday, the cruise line transferred approximately 100 asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic crew to Rhapsody of the Seas from various ships. However, it's an ongoing and ever-changing process.

The transferred crew members, who are all fully vaccinated, are in isolation and are being monitored by an onboard medical team. After each crew member completes their 10-day quarantine, they return to their assigned ships, Royal Caribbean said.

Royal Caribbean International's Rhapsody of the Seas ship.

Seventeen Royal Caribbean International ships that are carrying paying passengers have been or are under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are classified as "Yellow" on the health agency's cruise ship color status list. Rhapsody of the Seas and Vision of the Seas – both crew-only vessels currently – are classified as "Orange" and are being monitored by the CDC. 

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Passengers watched transfer of 'busload after busload' of crew

Cyndi and Chris Siegle, from Trinity, Florida, are sailing on back-to-back itineraries on Allure of the Seas. The couple witnessed the transfer of a number of cruise members to Rhapsody of the Seas while the ship was docked in St. Maarten. 

Sierra-Caro from Royal Caribbean confirmed that St. Maarten is one of the locations at which transfers are being conducted and noted that "transfers are taking place at various locations depending on a ship's itinerary."

While docked, Cyndi noticed a lifeboat headed from the pier to Rhapsody of the Seas.

"I learned later that day that the Rhapsody was picking up crew members that tested positive for COVID," Cyndi told USA TODAY, noting that at the time there were three Royal Caribbean ships in port including Allure of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas.

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"Later that night, about 10 p.m., I heard some commotion outside our balcony," Cyndi said Thursday. "There was a long line of crew members coming off of the Symphony (of the Seas) and they were given numbers. Suitcases were wrapped in plastic and the people helping them into transportation vehicles were completely covered with white jump suits, heads completely covered, wearing goggles and gloves as well. As soon as the three vehicles were full, they drove off and returned empty about 10 minutes later."

Crew members were being transported to Rhapsody.

"We watched them actively moving crew for three hours," Cyndi said. 

The Siegles posted video footage of the crew transfer to their YouTube channel, "Siegle Media." 

"This is extensive, there's busload after busload of crew being removed from these ships and being taken over and put on the Rhapsody of the Seas," Chris says in the video.

Cydni called the situation "kind of concerning" in the video, wondering aloud whether other people on board have tested positive or if they would. "That's a lot of crew to be down."