Seven Seas Voyager, a luxury cruise liner owned by the New York Stock Exchange-listed Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, is floating at the anchorage of Mumbai Port Trust awaiting the Covid-19 test results of 168 Indian crew on board ahead of disembarking them.

Four more luxury liners are expected at Indian ports over the next few days to drop off thousands of Indian crews stranded across the globe after the coronavirus outbreak forced their owners to suspend services. Their repatriation to India has sparked much outcry, particularly because of the suspension of international flights into the country, closing a key mode for their homecoming.

The cruise liners expected to dock at Indian ports include Ovation of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, two of the largest luxury cruise ships in the world, owned by Royal Caribbean International. They are expected at Cochin, Goa and Mumbai ports to disembark thousands of seafarers.

Celebrate Infinity, a cruise liner owned and operated by Celebrity Cruises, has set sail for India to drop off crew.

A luxury liner owned by Carnival Corporation & plc is also expected to arrive in India to evacuate crew on board.

A cruise ship owned by Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines with 80 Indian crew is also expected in India to sign off the crew.

The crew change from Bahamas-flagged Seven Seas Voyager will be the second such large scale evacuation of Indian seafarers from a cruise ship after the government allowed crew change of Indian seafarers at Indian ports on April 21 to facilitate the return of crew stranded overseas in the wake of lockdown restrictions that has grounded international flights.

Since then, some 3,000 Indian seafarers have signed off as well as joined ships at Indian ports, including from cargo ships. Barring one seafarer who was tested positive (now recovered) before joining a ship, all the others were negative.

J M Baxi & Co, the Mumbai based ship agency, is overseeing the crew sign off process from Seven Seas Voyager, operated by Miami, Florida-based Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a unit of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

“The cruise liner is at anchorage of Mumbai port. We did the Covid test for all the 168 crew at anchorage and awaiting results which should come in today,” said Commander Nevil Malao (Retd), Indian Navy and Vice President, J M Baxi & Co.

On April 23, J M Baxi & Co managed the disembarkation of 145 Indian seafarers from Marella Discovery, a cruise liner owned by the United Kingdom-based travel company TUI Group, smoothly.

About 23,000 Indians employed on cruise ships were stranded across the globe in the wake of the pandemic and their owners had offered to evacuate the Indian crew on chartered flights as was done in the case of Indonesian and Philippines crew, but a government wary of easing the international travel restrictions to combat the pandemic, refused to budge.

Cruise lines are, thus, forced to travel thousands of nautical miles just to repatriate the stranded Indian crew to their country.