Cruise ship passengers from Nanaimo have been stranded off the coast of Chile because of COVID-19, even though no one aboard is sick.
Maggie Tilley, in an e-mail to the News Bulletin on Wednesday, said she and her husband David Andrews are one of at least three couples from Nanaimo aboard the Holland America Line cruise ship Zaandam, and Chilean authorities are refusing to let the ship pull into port and disembark passengers. The ship is on a cruise that began March 7 from Buenos Aires, Argentina, sailed around Cape Horn, and is on its way up the west coast of South America toward the Panama Canal and ultimately Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Tilley said after the cruise ship left Punta Arenas on March 14, the captain was advised that Chile would be closing ports and so he attempted to return.
“We sat anchored in the harbour while negotiators worked on our situation. Chile had us all fill in health declarations and have a mandatory temperature check. We all passed. Staff and crew are all healthy, but still Chile would not let us come alongside or disembark,” Tilley said. “They wanted us to do a 14-day quarantine. Our captain did not accept those terms and we pulled up the anchor and we are heading north.”
She said the vessel is on its way to Valparaíso for fuel and supplies.
“Beyond that, we do not know what is happening,” Tilley said. “We only know we are at this time unable to disembark so are not in a position to arrange flights home.”
In a statement issued Monday, Holland America Line confirmed there are no “known or suspected cases of COVID-19 on board” the Zaandam and the ship is not under quarantine.
“Despite Holland America Line’s positive outlook for disembarking Zaandam guests today at Punta Arenas, Chile, the ship was not allowed to do so by local authorities,” the statement noted. “Therefore, the ship departed the port this evening and is now en route to San Antonio, Chile, for a service call to take on fuel and other provisions. Holland America Line is working on options for guests to disembark and travel home as soon as possible. Updates will be provided when they are known.”
The company said there are 1,256 passengers and 586 crew aboard the Zaandam.
Tilley has also received an advisory from the Government of Canada, which said Chile declared a “state of exception – catastrophe” on Wednesday, March 18. The exact measures that country will enact are not yet known, but Chile had closed its borders to foreign travellers, while still allowing travellers to depart from that country.
“We encourage you to follow the instructions of local authorities, monitor local media and updates on the COVID-19 crisis from the Government of Chile … We are aware that there are currently cruise ships with the inability to disembark passengers off the coast of Chile on which Canadian citizens are travelling. Please note that we are in constant communication with local authorities to obtain further information on the situation,” the advisory noted.
Tilley said spirits aboard the Zaandam remain high, its captain gives daily updates of the situation, the pool and restaurants remain open, entertainment is continuing and she and her husband get fresh air and exercise by walking circuits around the ship’s outer deck.
But there is growing uncertainty about whether passengers will be allowed to disembark and how they will be able to get home from the journey they are now referring to as “the best cruise to nowhere” and the “mystery cruise.”