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Conditions of American Jazz riverboat called 'unacceptable' by some crew

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Posted at 8:31 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 21:41:20-04

TRIGG COUNTY, KY. (WTVF) — For the first time, a now-former crew member of the American Jazz ship spoke out about “unacceptable” working conditions for those still on board.

Crew and passengers would have docked off the Cumberland River in Nashville, but only passengers made it to the final destination. Crew members still on board said they want to know why it’s taken this long to get them home.

There have been a few opportunities to evacuate crew members, but family tells me how crew members risk losing their jobs if they evacuate. Kya Brownlee says she worked with housekeeping and left the ship last week. She said tensions between some managers and staff were already high. Once the ship grounded on Lake Barkley Wednesday, that tension only got worse. Brownlee said it’s been frustrating to hear the stories from friends who’ve reached their breaking point.

“One of my friends wanted to leave immediately and they had her up in the captain's pit yelling at her. Telling her you can’t leave and they’re just so in your face. She’s very soft-hearted. It’s to the point where she’ll come break down crying to me and I have to stop what I’m doing to calm her down,” Brownlee said.

After two nights on board the grounded ship, passengers disembarked Friday afternoon. They were transported via bus to Nashville, where they spent the weekend and continued their excursions as scheduled. We’re told most left for home by Sunday evening.

Some crew members managed to evacuate Saturday, but Brownlee says her friend was told to stay behind. If they left anyway, Brownlee says the crew was told they were on their own for getting back home. American Cruise Lines told us, however, that they would arrange for transportation once a crew member decides to leave.

There are currently 32 crew members on board, that includes some people who have been called in to replace those who’ve already evacuated. One has to remember that the ship has not made it to port since last Wednesday. That’s when they would dump garbage, restock supplies, and clean water.

American Cruise Lines brought fresh water and supplies for the crew this past weekend, but Brownlee says there’s still the matter of improving the working environment for staff.

“They’re overworking people. They try to intimidate you and say well if you don’t do this, we will do this. There’s no argument. You can’t stand up for yourself and say that’s wrong and you know it’s wrong,” Brownlee said.

We asked American Cruise Lines why the crew had to be on board as divers attempted to raise the ship from the sand bar. They tell us the ship needs to have staff on the ready in case the ship is freed. That way they can take the ship to the next destination on their schedule before moving on. As for when the crew can evacuate, they say the Coast Guard decides if it’s safe to do so.

Below is the latest statement from American Cruise Lines:

American Cruise Lines has been working together with the U.S. Coast Guard and marine recovery experts. All guests and several crew members disembarked the ship last Friday. Some crew members have traveled home while many crew members have elected to remain on board the ship or move on to other small ships and riverboats we have operating across the country. American Cruise Lines has arranged all travel for both guests and crew and will continue to make arrangements for any crew member who chooses to disembark. All disembarkations must be conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard. There have been no incidents in the safe transportation of people ashore. Safety is our top priority and the Coast Guard will continue to be involved in all personnel operations on and off the vessel. All equipment remains operational and resupply activities are occurring as needed. We appreciate the effort and support of all involved with this operation, as we work to refloat the American Jazz.