Like thousands of other seafarers, Karika Neethling wanted to get home as the coronavirus pandemic convulsed the cruise industry in March. Her anxiety grew more desperate when she learned she was pregnant.

But for nearly three months, the 27-year-old South African was caught in a web of border restrictions and corporate bureaucracy, shuttled on ships between ports in the Bahamas and Italy as her employer, MSC Cruises SA, worked to get its crews home.

"I don’t think we were ever priorities,” said Neethling, who worked as a shop employee aboard the luxury liner the MSC Preziosa. "I was depressed and in despair thinking I might have this baby on the ship.”