I interviewed Juan Jacues Strydom, known as John on board. He works for Norwegian owned Viking Ocean Cruises as a Cafe attendant. He has managed to get to his home in Middleburg, Mpumalanga safely, but many others still remain stranded on the ship.
How long have you been out at sea?
This has been my second contract. I joined the ship as crew in Auckland, New Zealand, on the 28th of January 2020. Back then, the risk of the virus was still low. We continued as normal until March 9th, when we were notified that all cruises were to be suspended. We were in Bali trying to get our passengers home. This turned out to be difficult, as a lot of airports and ports had been shut down. My contract should have ended on the 31st of July 2020, but I’m now at home in South Africa. We managed after several attempts to get a repatriation flight home from Norway.
What is morale like there?
At Viking the staff are really being well looked after, the company goes above to ensure their staff is safe. They planned a lot of extra activities to keep everyone busy and their minds stable. Sometimes we’d have movie nights, other nights our band would perform, we had talent shows, traditional cuisine nights, bingo, DJ hosting parties, etc. They gave each crew member their own space to live in during these times whilst we had no guest on board, which really increased one’s comfort and privacy.
What challenges have you had?
Our biggest challenge was during the beginning stages of the lockdown of all ports and airports. We could send some guest home from Bali, but after that, we were at sea for days at a time, as we weren’t able to dock anywhere, only make technical stops to refuel and stock up on provisions. We docked in Dubai for a few days, where further guests disembarked. Canadian guests stayed on board, as they were not allowed into the US. We departed Dubai with them and sailed to a port in Portugal where it was possible for the remaining guests to disembark.
Another enormous challenge I think for most of the Crew onboard was being stuck on board and not being able to set foot on land for months. The 26th of May 2020 was the first time could disembark the ship to get to my repatriation flight. Some crew members are still on board, waiting for flights to their countries.
Do you all have enough food?
Food was always available, we had set meal times, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Occasionally as I mentioned before we’d have traditional cuisine nights, for example, Mexican cuisine would be prepared, Turkey’s cuisine, etc
Were you able to keep in touch with loved ones?
We could keep in touch with our families and loved ones, yes. Viking offers free WiFi to all crew and guests even during normal operation.
What is one thing you have learned from this time?
This experience showed me how strong cultures can be together during a time of need, as everyone onboard helped each other and ensured everyone was doing OK, making sure was a positive ending to this.
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Just a big thanks to the hard work of everyone in the company, for all that they did to ensure that we got back home safely and also for making sure that everyone still on board is doing well