April 17, 2019 was an important date for India’s Jalesh Cruises. It was the first time passengers set foot onboard the recently purchased Karnika for a cruise from Mumbai. Less than a year later, the cruise line is out of business and the ship sold for scrap. COVID-19 is to blame, but sources tell Porthole Cruise that the cruise line’s financial issues were obvious onboard long prior to the pandemic.
Jalesh Cruises was one of six cruise operators that was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving behind lost opportunity and a number of outstanding debts owed to crew and contractors. Porthole Cruise News spoke with a source who was onboard the ship when the shutdown first happened and who claims the cruise line made promises they couldn’t keep, leaving employees in dire financial straits.
Employees Left High and Dry
The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses all over the world, but the cruise industry took perhaps the worst of it. While major cruise conglomerates like Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Group had the resources to put their ships on the shelf for a full year, Jalesh Cruises did not. As a result, the cruise line broke rules not just pertaining to COVID-19 safety, but also basic decency in the aftermath of the shutdown.
We [the crew] were told to lie about our shore leave in Dubai when we got back to Mumbai.
Porthole Cruise got a firsthand account of what those few days were like from an American who was working onboard the ship as an entertainer and their story raises a number of questions and concerns about the safety and well-being of the crew.
When the pandemic shut down the cruise industry in March, Karnika was cruising the Persian Gulf from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. According to a source onboard the ship, an announcement was made to the crew that they would be returning to Mumbai, but without passengers onboard. Everything seemed normal, our source said. Entertainment staff performed their normal evening shows for the crew and most saw the passenger-less trip as a much-needed vacation of their own.
Upon returning to Mumbai, however, it became clear that things were amiss. Local authorities were there to meet the ship at the dock, forbidding anyone from getting off. In a meeting with the whole crew, the cruise line instructed employees to lie about their shore leave in Dubai to help alleviate the government’s concerns about spreading COVID-19.
Then came the cost-cutting measures.
The owners wanted to remove all non-essential employees from Karnika, leaving a skeleton crew behind to keep the ship operational while the industry waited to resume cruising. For the eight Americans onboard, that meant a long and expensive flight home. The United States was offering flights for Americans stranded abroad, but at a cost of $2,000 per seat. Emails provided to Porthole Cruise News show the cruise line offered to reimburse employees for these flights in an effort to get people off the ship as soon as possible.
At the time, nobody was talking about the shutdown lasting a full year. Our source says the entertainment staff were led to believe they would be back soon, and as a result, many left personal luggage locked in the dressing room closet. Emails provided to Porthole Cruise News show that the cruise line offered to ship the luggage home to the owners.
Unfortunately, not only did the cruise line fail to reimburse the cost of the flights, they failed to protect the personal belongings of their staff. Images provided to Porthole Cruise News show the entertainment closet was ransacked by those left on the ship. Clothing and personal belongings are seen strewn about the room and our source laments that it’s highly unlikely any of it will be returned.
Financial issues seemed to plague the cruise line, even before the pandemic. The individual we spoke with who worked onboard said the line at the human resource office was often out the door on pay day with employees who didn’t receive their full compensation.
As an entertainment contractor hired through a production company, our source never had an issue with payment until the flight and luggage debacle. In fact, despite how it ended, our source was a fan of the opportunity and would very much consider working on board a cruise ship in the future, so long as it was a more established brand.
The Final Days
For the skeleton crew left on board following the shutdown, things went from bad to worse. Posts on social media show crew members sleeping outside on deck chairs due to a lack of A/C with a caption claiming the cruise line failed to provide food, fuel and salaries for those still on board the ship.
Dear @mui_mum, please help our fellow seafarers abandoned on vessel Karnika by their owner Jalesh Cruises near Mumbai. The vessel is in sad state. Sharing some info received from an officer onboard the vessel. pic.twitter.com/DlwxNnAXk5
— VARUN (@bvarunnn) October 9, 2020
@ndtvindia we r 52 indian member working in jalesh cruise comapny not giving anything food fuel no safety nothing bt we r working here for money bt owner like to fool us he didn’t give our salary for last 3 months nd now he like to send us home without clearing our money .. pic.twitter.com/ZBsWTuz7r2
— Vikrant Thakur (@Vikrant74820658) October 9, 2020
As India’s government would not give the cruise line permission to resume operation, the cruise line’s financial situation deteriorated drastically to the point where a court in India awarded the ship to NKD Maritime to be scrapped to pay for outstanding debts.
With that sale came the end of Jalesh Cruises. The company and its owners are still embroiled in legal battles regarding outstanding debts, but it’s unclear what the resolution will be. The source we spoke with said the production company who hired some of the entertainment staff had retained an attorney in Mumbai, but there wasn’t much confidence for reimbursement.
The cost of the COVID-19 pandemic to the cruise industry is difficult to understate. Jalesh Cruises was just one cruise line to see their entire operation fold in just a matter of months but lost in the shuffle are the individuals who had their livelihoods turned upside down. When cruising does return, remember that your cruise vacation is the vehicle through which so many make their living.