South Shore couple among Canadians stuck aboard cruise ship, unable to find a port amid pandemic
MONTREAL -- Fear of the coronavirus has lead officials to seal their ports to the Norwegian Jewel, a cruise ship carrying hundreds of Canadians who are unsure when they'll be allowed to disembark and what their government is doing to get them home.
Two of those Canadians are from Brossard on Montreal's South Shore. Michal and Izabella Zaczkiewicz boarded the ship in Australia in February, expecting a few weeks of relaxation, cruising among Pacific islands.
At that time, few worried about the spread of a new virus in China that was beginning to seep to other countries. Cases appeared in Iran then Italy. The cruise, meanwhile, traversed the South Pacific, its occupants unaware of the brewing global crisis.
Travellers continued to spread the virus, and in recent days and weeks, schools closed, sports leagues shut down, businesses shuttered, and in North America, like Europe and China, people began to die.
Aboard the ship, passengers are mostly unaware of the state the world is in, according to Marc Aoun, the Zaczkiewicz's son-in-law.
The Norwegian Jewel arrived in Fiji on March 10. It was the last time the Zaczkiewiczs went to shore. They were scheduled to fly home at their next stop, French Polynesia, but, fearing the virus, officials kept passengers on the ship.
World health authorities have been concerned that cruise ships ease the spread of the virus. One ship, the Diamond Princess, remained moored in Yokohama Japan in early February for more than two weeks. But the quarantine was ineffective; the virus spread onboard. When another ship, the Grand Princess, docked in California earlier this month carrying infected passengers, officials had learned their lesson. Passengers disembarked and were whisked away to spend time in quarantine in their respective countries.
Aoun wants the Canadian government to act as it did with the passengers aboard the Grand Princess. "Treat them with the same amount of fairness as others who have been in that situation," he said in a Thursday Skype interview.
There have been no cases of COVID-19 aboard the Jewel, he said. It has so far been turned away by Fiji, New Zealand and, most recently, Hawaii. But passengers on the ship think they'll be allowed to disembark in Honolulu. They're wrong. Hawaiian state officials have denied access to the ship.
Aoun communicates with his inlaws via email -- when they have it. Wifi access for passengers is fleeting. The captain will make announcements over the loudspeaker, telling them they'll be allowed to disembark and fly home; passengers will buy tickets on the cruise's computers. Some passengers have maxed out credit cards buying tickets for flights they haven't been able to take, Aoun said.
When the captain comes over the loudspeaker once more, Aoun explained, telling passengers that, in fact, they won't be able to disembark at yet another port, the mood shifts from hopeful to gloomy.
Aoun isn't worried about the virus. In a few days' time, it will have been two weeks since the last time anyone on the ship left it. Nobody has symptoms, he said, meaning that the ship has effectively been quarantined.
He is, however, worried about a lack of medication. Many of the passengers are ageing. His father-in-law is 74, his mother-in-law, 68. They have about five days of necessary medication left, Aoun reckons.
The families of the 347 Canadians stuck aboard the ship have been organizing, putting pressure on their MPs and sending emails to the minister of foreign affairs. Responses have been generic and haven't seemed to grasp the urgency of the situation, Aoun said, and time is running out.
After Hawaii denied the ship access, Aoun isn't sure what its next move is. His inlaws still think they'll be allowed to disembark. They don't know that Hawaiian state officials have released a statement saying: "Presently, all state resources are focused and directed towards containing the spread of COVID-19. Allowing more than 2,500 passengers and crew to disembark will further strain these resources."
Aoun doesn't know where they're going next.
With files from CTV Montreal's Angela Mackenzie.