Imagine a job that gives you the privilege of free food, lodging, and travel expenses, with no electricity or water bills to pay, all while earning cash in dollars. Dream come true, right? That’s what I thought, too, until I worked on a cruise ship.
It sounds so glamorous, but I had to undergo a very intense Basic Safety Training (BST) or Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) for 8-10 days. I had to learn about the ship structure, fire safety, search and rescue, first aid, and Basic Life Support or CPR. Then I had to go through a practical examination, where I had to jump 20 feet into a pool. Training never stopped, even when I was on board the ship. I had to learn where to go in case of an emergency and how to deal with disabled passengers.
I was trapped in the ship for nine months straight. I didn't have weekends or weekdays.
I only had sea days and port days—which became my days off. If a port day turned into an unexpected sea day, my day off automatically became a work day.
I also had to undergo physical examination to get a fit-to-work documentation. If I failed even a single medical examination, I wouldn't be allowed to embark on the ship without being treated.
Communicating with my loved ones was very hard. It cost me $40/460 minutes or $20/220 minutes to contact my family. The satellite Internet was slow, too, so I felt like I was cut off from the outside world. Some crew members resorted to use the company phone to call home.
They were caught, and then sent home.
Discrimination was never tolerated in the workplace, but you could easily spot how other crew members were treated. Officers usually got a private room and a bathroom, while the rest had to share with one to seven other crew members. Officers also had the privilege of having cabin stewards who would clean their rooms daily and do their laundry.
Crew members had separate mess halls. Officers had the privilege to eat food fit for a king in the officer’s mess. The rest of the crew ate at the shabby crew mess.
Because of this inequality in the distribution of food, some crew members resorted to illegal means of getting their meals.
People would cook food inside the bathroom, on top of the
closed toilet seat—where there was no heat or fire detector.
I've done this a couple of times. If I had been caught, I would have been sent home.
Others resorted to connections with their chef friends in the kitchen or in the food and beverage department. I would constantly get huge pieces of steak and lobster from my favorite restaurant for free. My friends would give me chocolate-coated strawberries, tea and pastries from the coffee shop, and whole pizzas, which I'd eat later in my room.
Salaries weren't equal either. Some crew members, including Pinoys, were given smaller compensation compared to first world counterparts in the same position.
Money was hard, so some female crew members resorted to prostitution.
Other crew members seduced officers to be their boyfriends. One crew member got promoted after a month of working, just because she was a dating an officer.
In some ships, Filipinos couldn't be hired for certain positions, like a doctor or a nurse. In one particular company, only doctors from the USA or South Africa were allowed in the medical center.
How do the other crew members deal with the stress? Well, there's a party in the crew bar every single night. You can dance the night away and spend all your money on drinks.
They say you haven't really worked if you've never worked on a ship. If you're thinking of working on a ship, you have to really want it. The amount of money you earn can't compensate for the warmth of your loved ones. I say, find a job on land.
To those planning on going on a cruise, be friendly to the crew on board. Your gratitude (and gratuities!) may be the only thing that can brighten their day.