Cargo Ships Forced to Store Bodies of Deceased Crew Members

Some were kept in onboard freezers for months.

COVID-19 has forced everyone in the supply chain to take all sorts of precautionary measures to prevent the virus’ spread.

But strict and often uneven rules across the shipping industry have forced some ocean freighters to take especially morbid measures.

The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 19 that in numerous instances, the bodies of crew members who died aboard cargo ships during voyages had to be stowed in onboard food freezers because restrictions at many ports prevented the unloading of bodies suspected of being infected with the coronavirus.

The Journal noted that while the pandemic’s impacts have eased, the restrictions remain in place — and ships are often left to traverse long distances in search of a port where they can offload fallen crew members. We’re not just talking about a day or two: bodies can be stuck on cargo ships for months at a time, the report said.

The Journal detailed how the captain of a cargo ship that departed India died this past April while the vessel was off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. His body was put in the ship’s walk-in freezer, and it spent six months there as the ship traveled thousands of miles and petitioned 13 different countries to receive the body until it was finally offloaded in October.

Similarly, in September, a 23-year-old member of a Swiss-flagged bulk carrier crew died from an apparent suicide while the ship was anchored at a southeastern China port. After Chinese authorities refused to take the body, the ship traveled almost two months and over 5,000 miles to Vancouver, where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police agreed to repatriate the body, which still wasn’t home as of the Nov. 19 report.

As of that date, the International Maritime Organization said four corpses remained stuck aboard cargo ships, along with 36 urgent cases involving medical or humanitarian emergencies.

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