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Dead Crewmembers Stuck Aboard Cargo Ships

Unable to be offloaded, various corpses have been 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 has led to morbid actions taken by ocean freighters.

On Nov. 19, the Wall Street Journal reported on numerous instances in which the bodies of crewmembers who have died aboard cargo ships during voyages have had to be stowed in onboard food freezers because restrictions at many ports prevent the unloading of bodies suspected of being infected with the coronavirus.

The Journal notes that while the pandemic’s impacts have continued to ease, those restrictions remain, and it often leaves ships to traverse oceans in search of a port where they can offload their fallen crewmember. We’re not just talking about a day or two. Corpses can be stuck on cargo ships for months at a time, says the report.

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 in 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, the report detailed, a 23-year-old crewmember of a Swiss-flagged bulk carrier died this past September from an apparent suicide while the ship was anchored at a southeast China port. After Chinese authorities refused to take the body, the ship traveled almost two months and over 5,000 miles to Vancouver, Canada, 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 there were four corpses stuck aboard cargo ships, along with 36 urgent cases involving medical or humanitarian emergencies.

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