Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Sean O’Connor, a Hampden native who now lives in Portland, has worked in the maritime industry for four years. Because of the pandemic, he hasn’t been off his ship since early February. Photo courtesy of Sean O’Connor

Sean O’Connor is used to being on a vessel at sea. The Hampden native graduated from Maine Maritime Academy in 2016 and has been working for the maritime industry since.

O’Connor, 26, shipped out on Jan. 11, boarding his vessel in Beaumont, Texas.

“The usual rotation has us doing 90 or 120-day hitches,” O’Connor said. “Originally, I was due to come home on April 10 or so.”

O’Connor now lives in Portland, but he is halfway around the world, stuck on his ship, docked in Singapore.

“Aside from walking on the docks a few hundred feet, I haven’t been ashore since I made a 3 a.m. Walmart run in Jacksonville, Florida, in early February.”

Back then, all seemed normal. O’Connor’s vessel took him from Jacksonville, to Panama, and toward a port near Hiroshima, Japan. News of the coronavirus became more prevalent.

“Over the 27 days it took us to get from Panama to Japan, we began to realize how the spread of this coronavirus would affect us. On arrival in Japan, on March 7, the local harbor pilots were already practicing what is now the norm everywhere, but at the time was still new to us. We wore our masks and gloves too, though, and practiced distancing with a sense of novelty and hoped it would be a temporary arrangement.”

From Japan, the ship traveled to Singapore. O’Connor realized words like novelty and temporary were no longer being used.

“We have been in Singapore since March 25. We came for a routine drydock period, where we service parts of the ship normally submerged and do other large-scale repairs and modifications.

“However, the work has been extremely delayed due to the various restrictions of yard workers and their recent outbreak of the virus.”

That outbreak, O’Connor believes, is a result of foreign contract workers, “most of whom come from India and Malaysia and live in shared dorms together.

“We are working in such close proximity to foreign workers we are all wearing masks, in addition to our normal PPE when working on deck. We have our living quarters locked to outsiders. We are sanitizing everything daily, separating the crew at mealtimes, and making hand sanitizer even more widely available.

“A few members of our crew fell sick with flu-like symptoms, and were kept quarantined in their cabins until they were well.”

Being stuck has had its tense moments, but there is also a growing camaraderie.

“Our conditions are surely better than many in the world and, having traveled far and wide, we sailors recognize how good we have it as Americans; even on normal days but especially so in these times. That being said, fresh food deliveries have been less frequent, and our wonderful stewards department has been resorting to a lot of spaghetti dinners. We are still a family out here – albeit at times dysfunctional – and we are looking out for each other the best we can.

“We are truly stuck in limbo … (But) Singapore has cautiously opened its doors for seafarers and airline employees to have crew reliefs, with a very specific outline of their rules.”

The replacement, or relief, crews must be in quarantine 14 days and receive medical clearance before coming aboard. So, O’Connor continues to wait, but with an end in sight, when he will fly home.

“Right now, I am told June 7 is the date for my relief, so I’m praying daily that this date holds.”

O’Connor doesn’t know what to expect in his travels back to the U.S.

“The rules in each country are so different and are changing daily, so depending on which countries I connect through, it may be an interesting trip home.

“When I get home, I’ll quarantine at my house, to be sure I don’t spread anything I may have picked up on the trip home.”

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