Home U.S Civilian mariner forced to stay on US Navy ship commits suicide

Civilian mariner forced to stay on US Navy ship commits suicide


The body of a civilian mariner who was unable to leave the US Navy ship he had been working on for months due to Covid-19 restrictions was kept in a food storage refrigerator after he committed suicide at sea. 

Third Officer Jonathon Morris, 34, of San Mateo, California, took his own life on July 22 on the USNS Amelia Earhart cargo ship that was deployed in the Middle East.

He was among the 100 civilian maritime professionals on the ship that had been hired by the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) to help transport supplies and personnel across the world. 

Prior to his suicide, Morris had told a co-worker that he was struggling with the extended periods at sea amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Daily Beast reports.

Morris had also recently had to deal with a racial dispute between two people under him that subsequently led to him being given a less desirable posting that meant he would be on the ship for an additional four months. 

Third Officer Jonathon Morris, 34, of San Mateo, California, took his own life on July 22 on the USNS Amelia Earhart cargo ship (above) that was deployed in the Middle East

Third Officer Jonathon Morris, 34, of San Mateo, California, took his own life on July 22 on the USNS Amelia Earhart cargo ship (above) that was deployed in the Middle East

MSC had put in place a ‘gangways-up’ order back in March when the coronavirus outbreak took hold globally. 

The order meant all civilian mariners working on MSC ships were forced to stay on their ships and shore leave was suspended even when a ship was docked in a port.

Prior to the pandemic, civilian mariners would usually carry out contracts that only lasted a few months.

Quarantine procedures, however, has slowed the rotation of civilian mariners. 

It has meant that some have been stuck on ships waiting for relief for up to four months.

It is not clear how many months Morris was waiting for relief before his death.

Morris led the night watch on the ship and was in charge of three other civilian mariner.

Crewmembers who didn’t want to be named told the Daily Beast that tensions were already high by July due to the gangways-up order and ongoing pandemic.

They say Morris had recently had to deal with a racial dispute among two of the members that he was in charge of after a white man allegedly used hurled a racial insult at a black woman. 

The ordeal resulted in a change to the firearm policy for the civilian mariners on the night watch. Morris, as the watch commander, was given a pistol during his shift and one crew member was given a shotgun. Under the changes, the shotgun was removed. 

MSC had put in place a 'gangways-up' order back in March when the coronavirus outbreak took hold globally. The order meant all civilian mariners working on MSC ships were forced to stay on their ships and shore leave was suspended even when a ship was docked in a port. Pictured above are crew members in September stationed in the Indian Ocean

MSC had put in place a ‘gangways-up’ order back in March when the coronavirus outbreak took hold globally. The order meant all civilian mariners working on MSC ships were forced to stay on their ships and shore leave was suspended even when a ship was docked in a port. Pictured above are crew members in September stationed in the Indian Ocean

His family have so far refused to speculate on what may have caused his suicide. Morris' death, however, prompted unions to call for an end to the 'gangways-up' order given the concern over the mental health of the mariners

His family have so far refused to speculate on what may have caused his suicide. Morris’ death, however, prompted unions to call for an end to the ‘gangways-up’ order given the concern over the mental health of the mariners

While Morris had reported the issue to his superior, the crew members who spoke to the outlet said nothing was done. 

The female victim went overheard and complained to the first mate. It prompted those in charge to deem Morris unfit for leadership and approved plans to move him to the less desirable day watch. 

It would mean Morris would be on the ship for an additional four months instead of the two that he was scheduled for. 

In the moments before he shot himself in the head using the pistol he was allocated, Morris apologized to his black female colleague for what she had endured on the ship. 

Those on board the ship say medical crews tried to revive him before he was transported to the dock in Bahrain where local responders pronounced him dead. 

Crew members say they were forced to store Morris’ body in a refrigerator designated for food until they could work out a way to get him back to his family. 

Those still on board say Morris’ suicide traumatized many of the crew members with some unable to eat knowing their colleague’s body was being stored in a refrigerator. 

It is not clear how long Morris’ body had to be store in that way.   

His family have so far refused to speculate on what may have caused his suicide. 

Morris’ death, however, prompted unions to call for an end to the ‘gangways-up’ order given the concern over the mental health of the mariners. 

‘The actual cause of this mariner’s actions may never be known, however, the ongoing and selective ‘Gangways Up’ restrictions may have, in some part, contributed to this unnecessary and senseless act,’ the unions wrote in a letter to MSC commander Admiral Michael A. Wettlauer a week after his death. 

‘Couple the disparate nature of the Gangways Up policy with the continuing crisis of overdue reliefs and you have potentially worse disasters waiting to happen on MSC-vessels all over the world. 

‘Waiting in-excess of 90 days for relief in some cases is contributing to the escalating anxiety and tensions aboard ships. The current situation is taking a terrible toll on the families of these mariners as well. The (civilian mariners) feel unsupported and abandoned. 

‘There is growing anger, frustration and despair throughout the fleet. People have a breaking point and many of these crewmembers are nearing it.’ 

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