'We are floating around the ocean': Cruise ship with no coronavirus shut out of ports
A Pacific cruise that a Michigan family had planned as a celebration of improved health and graduation from college is turning out to be more stressful than expected as the ship looks for a port that will take it amid global coronavirus concerns.
"We are floating around the ocean," said Steve Muth, from Onsted, Michigan, who boarded Holland America’s MS Westerdam with his wife, Jane, and daughter Kate, and Kate's boyfriend, Erik Deneau, Feb. 1. "We've been denied, essentially, every port, every country since leaving Hong Kong."
There are no known cases of coronavirus on board despite reports to the contrary, the cruise line said, and the Westerdam is not in quarantine.
They had one stop in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, but otherwise, Steve Muth said, they've been floating at sea.
The worry among countries is that a new strain of coronavirus — which first appeared in China in December and has infected more than 37,000 people globally and killed 814 as of Sunday, according to the World Health Organization — will become a pandemic if not contained.
"I think we're headed toward Vietnam, maybe Malaysia, Cambodia, not sure — they won't tell us just yet," he told the Detroit Free Press, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, in a phone interview Sunday from the ship. "We have no known cases onboard, but there's just a lot of fear that someone may have it and bring it to their country."
Holland America told USA TODAY Saturday that there are plans in the works for disembarkation soon.
"We can confirm that we have received preliminary approval for a port of disembarkation next week," the cruise line confirmed in a statement provided by Erik Elvejord, its director of public relations, though it did not name the location.
"However, before we receive final confirmation, we are required to do a complete passport review of all guests and crew in order to ensure that no one has traveled in mainland China in the past 14 days," the statement continued. "We know that our guests are anxious for a port confirmation, as are we."
Earlier in the cruise, the ship was forced to skip a port call in Manila after the Philippines wouldn't allow any foreigners aboard the Westerdam to disembark there. It was subsequently was denied entry to ports in Japan and Guam.
Unlike the Diamond Princess, a Princess Cruises' cruise ship which is off the coast of Japan after dozens of passengers tested positive for coronavirus, the Westerdam is not under quarantine, according to Muth and Holland America.
The Diamond Princess — which has a crew of 1,045 and 2,666 guests — quarantined passengers in their cabins until Feb 19, after a traveler who got off the ship on Jan. 25 tested positive for coronavirus.
Holland America, however, said that its passengers and crew are safe and free to move about the ship.
"We have no reason to believe there are any cases of coronavirus on board despite media reports," the cruise line said. "The ship has sufficient fuel and food provisions to last until the end of the voyage. We are providing free internet and phone access for guests and crew to stay in contact with their loved ones."
In addition, the cruise line said, the 1,455 guests have been provided a full refund and a future cruise credit. There are also 802 crew members onboard.
Holland America has canceled the next cruise scheduled to embark in Yokohama, Japan, Feb. 15.
Muth said that initially, the cruise was supposed to end in Shanghai, but that was changed to Tokyo. However Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said passengers would not be allowed to disembark and the cruise line has been seeking an alternate plan.
Muth, 57, who lives about an hour's drive from Detroit, said that his family took an 18-hour flight to Hong Kong to get on the ship, and the cruise line screened passengers for risks for the coronavirus before they boarded.
"Everybody seemed good," he said. "It would seem like all the precautions were taken."
A human resources consultant, Muth said their family decided to take the cruise after health concerns. He said he broke his leg, he had had a cancer scare, he just had an operation on his neck. The trip, he said, was a celebration of survival.
On top of that, he added, his daughter recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University.
"We have good meals, good entertainment, the company has been outstanding," Muth said, adding he has no bad things to say about the cruise line. "It's just a bit unnerving not knowing whether we'll have to go through quarantine when we get back. We don't know."
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