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I Was Told It Was Safe To Take This Cruise I'm Now Trapped On

I enjoy sitting out on the balcony at night, where I can see Venus in the distance.

It’s much nicer out here in the fresh air, rather than the ship air in my room.

I find myself jealous of the birds -- they’re free. Free to fly with us but also free to go ashore.

My wife and I are on the Rotterdam cruise ship headed towards Florida. It is one of two cruise ships, along with the Zaandam, that is hoping to dock there in the next few days. Until recently, the main message we've received from various governments, including our own, is: We don't want you.

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There are several sick people on the Zaandam -- healthy passengers have been transferred to our ship. Four people have died from coronavirus. Nine others have tested positive, and there are several other passengers on both ships with flu-like symptoms.

The Florida governor has described these ships as being full of “foreigners” but there are lots of US citizens on board and President Trump has said that he will let us disembark -- but we have yet to receive official word.

Before Trump made this announcement, our fate, like the fates of the 9,000 cruise passengers around the world, was uncertain. Not knowing where or when we’d be allowed to disembark in our own country is stressful enough without reading the comments from unsympathetic people about cruise passengers like us.

It’s been extremely disappointing, to say the least. Imagine being the loved one of one of the people that’s just died and seeing idiotic comments like 'what did you expect?'

Pathetic.

A tender approaches the Zaandam off the coast of Panama on March 28. (Image: Juan Huergo via AP)

I can’t speak for all the cruise passengers in the world, obviously, but I assure you, we made informed and intelligent decisions before getting on this boat.

I had been following the news about the coronavirus since its outbreak in Wuhan. I was aware of how the disease was affecting cruises off the coast of New Jersey, where I’m from, and, of course, the Diamond Princess in Japan. I had hoped that other cruises would incorporate any lessons that could have been learned from those experiences.

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There was no CDC warning against cruising when we boarded our ship in Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 7, several days before the WHO declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic. And South America at the time seemed to have very few cases.

Before leaving, we agonized over the decision to go. We contacted the cruise company several times and were assured that it was safe. (We were also not offered the option of a refund.) In fact, we were more worried about the civil unrest in Chile -- we were originally meant to disembark in San Antonio on March 21. A lot of other people couldn’t have been that worried either, because our flight between the US and Argentina was packed.

We try to pass the time by taking photos of the beautiful scenery.  (Image: Supplied)

We had received an email informing us that our temperatures would be taken before boarding. But this didn’t happen -- there was only a questionnaire that had to be filled out.

That, admittedly, was not comforting.

After a week on the ship, on March 14, things started getting surreal, with states of emergency being declared all over the world. Montevideo, Uruguay was banning ships and Argentina was getting close to closing its borders.

That night, on the way to Ushuaia, Argentina, a card was slipped under our door -- the captain had decided to turn the ship around and double back to Punta Arenas, Chile. After two very stressful days of negotiations with the Chilean government and the cruise company, we were forced to set sail again on the 16th.

Even then, things remained normal on the ship -- there were activities, shows and communal meals still taking place. But on the 21st, we noticed more people coughing during one of the shows -- and they weren't coughing into their elbows.

The next day, we started seeing ship workers wearing masks -- some of them appeared to be sanitising a room a few doors away from us. Crew and passengers had been reporting sick.

The captain made an announcement declaring that “out of an abundance of caution” we would need to return to our staterooms, where we would remain the rest of the cruise.

On Friday, the 27th, the captain announced that four guests had passed away -- and we realised that this was no longer a cruise but rather a humanitarian crisis.

As we’ve been confined to our rooms for almost two weeks, there has been plenty of time to think.

I’ve thought about the families of the four people who died. What support were they given as port after port was closed to us?

I’ve thought about the families of the crew on both ships and how worried they must be about them, so far from home.

I’ve thought about the Diamond Princess, which was allowed to turn into a petri dish for this disease while docked off the coast of Japan.

I've thought about the cruise ships like ours around the world, forbidden from docking, unable to go back to their registered 'home ports'. How does that matter when people might die?

Sailing away from Valparaiso, Chile on March 21. (Image: Supplied)

As we wait for health and border officials to determine if healthy people can disembark, I remain cautiously optimistic.

I also ask that, in this time of crisis, we remember to have compassion for each other. I’ve heard that a woman on the Zaandam is being kept in the same room her husband passed away in -- put yourself in her shoes. Imagine her pain.

As for the governments, they need to show some humanity and help people disembark and get home to their families.

If there’s one realisation I’ve made while confined to my quarters at sea, it’s that we are all in this world together.