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Grand Celebration cruise ship contracted by FEMA for hurricane relief in U.S. Virgin Islands

Posted at 7:10 PM, Sep 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-21 04:26:50-04

FEMA is spread out throughout South Florida, offering aid and assistance.

Fearing what Hurricane Maria has done to the U.S. Virgin Islands, FEMA has enlisted the help of a cruise ship to help emergency crews in there.

"We got a call from FEMA a few days ago asking for our help. And it was a hard decision because we have passengers we care about," said Anita Mitchell, communications director for Bahamas Paradise Cruise Lines, which owns the Grand Celebration. "But realizing the terrible tragedy that's happening in the Virgin Islands, actually there was no choice."

The Grand Celebration cruise ship normally embarks for the Bahamas but on Wednesday evening, it set sail for St.Thomas in the U.S Virgin Islands, which was hit hard by Hurricane Irma and now, Hurricane Maria.

WPTV toured the ship Wednesday morning as crew loaded food and other supplies for their mission. 

The boat will essentially be the “hotel” for the National Guard and first responders in St. Thomas, who are helping residents impacted by the storms. The boat has a capacity to house 2,000 people. 

“Our ship is capable, it’s the right size. FEMA needs us -- so we’re going," stressed Mitchell. “How better than to have a hotel, off land that they can get to that has the supplies and the resources and can house the people that are going to rebuild that horrible tragedy down there."

It was a last minute request by FEMA, which has contracted the Grand Celebration until December. The boat was supposed to leave on Saturday but left early to allow more time to navigate the dangerous path around Maria.
 
"Our captain is wonderful. We've been through a couple of hurricanes and he comes from a larger cruise line, great experience," said Mitchell. "We know how to navigate those. Safety is always first. Which direction, it just depends on what Maria decides to do with us."

Anyone who booked an upcoming trip with through Dec. 21 can either get a refund or reschedule their cruise with a $100 onboard credit.
 
About 200 crew and the captain will be sailing for St. Thomas to maintain the boat. 
 
As for the other crew -- who will be without work for three months because of the FEMA contract -- the cruise line said they will be getting paid vacation until December when that contract ends.

However, the cruise liner does contract out with other companies for some employees, such as gate agents and other positions outside of the ship. Mitchell said those workers are subject to layoffs depending on the employee's labor agreement with their company.

The Grand Celebration opened up for storm victims in Palm Beach County last week, providing shelter and free food for those without power or damaged homes after Hurricane Irma.