Stuck at sea

Stuck at sea

Jamaican woman feels safer on stranded cruise ship than on coronavirus-hit land

Sunday Observer writer

Sunday, March 29, 2020

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A 26-year-old woman, a first-timer working with a popular cruise liner, is among four Jamaicans stuck at sea as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but surprisingly she's quite happy aboard the ship.

Wire service reports said about 14 cruise ships are stranded on the world's oceans because ports have refused them landing rights in an effort to protect their countries from the marauding coronavirus.

The Jamaican asked the Jamaica Observer to use only her pet name, Ali, because she was not authorised to speak about the ship she is on.

The ship had to take supplies to one of its ill-fated sister ships, named by CNN as the MS Zaandam belonging to the Holland America Line, on which the news network reported four older guests had died, with two confirmed to have succumbed to COVID-19.

Ali joined the cruise vessel in early February to begin her nine-month contract as a spa technician.

“In my 26 years I have never been away from my close-knit family. What a great opportunity to travel to some of the most picturesque destinations and get paid at the same time,” she thought when she landed the job after completing her course in Britain.

Just as she was adjusting to life on the sea, overcoming her seasickness, and exploring exotic destinations such as Hawaii, Aruba, Mexico, The Bahamas, Colombia, and Venezuela, the novel coronavirus disease 2019 took the world by storm, crippling the tourism industry, starting with the cruise lines.

As the number of confirmed cases skyrocketed across the globe, many countries closed their borders. Due to the border closures, Ali said she will be sailing and will not be allowed on land at least for the next 25 days.

Ali's last day on land was March 11, 2020, a day after Jamaica announced its first confirmed coronavirus case. Before the virus disrupted the itinerary, the ship had left Hawaii and sailed for five days before docking in Ensenada, Mexico.

There, the 900-member crew was denied shore leave, due to Mexico closing its border. The ship then sailed for San Diego, California, to end the cruise and all the guests disembarked. Crew members, however, were denied shore leave.

The ship sailed at a crawl to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they were allowed a service dock but again, denied shore leave. A few crew members who were supposed to leave the ship at that port, because their contracts had ended, were also confined to the ship, with no idea when they would be able to land.

Despite the drama Ali said she was spending her time well, bonding with her fellow Jamaicans — all Kingstonians and all newfound friends from the spa — as well as other crew members aboard the ship.

“I spend my time working in the spa, playing cards and Jenga, hanging by the pool, working out in the gym and dolphin watching. For the most part, I enjoy a great working relationship with my team who have grown closer since this whole ordeal, and best of all we are still being paid,” she told the Sunday Observer.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had earlier confirmed that one guest who left the ship at the last port she docked had tested positive after disembarking. It was not clear where she had contracted the virus.

But on Ali's ship no one had exhibited any symptoms and it was business as usual, with a few minor adjustments (the casino is closed). Ali said she was feeling safe on the ship, where “it does not feel like quarantining. The only drawback is that we are not allowed to go on shore”.

For now, Ali is in her own little sea world, safe and away from the spreading danger on land. She has comfortable accommodations, unlimited food, round-the-clock entertainment, and great amenities such as the pool and gym.

She also touches base with her family and friends everyday via text and video chat, saying: “I have a great support system. Everybody says they can't wait to see me very soon. They say that my cheerful spirit is an inspiration to them at home and a credit to Jamaica. I'm lucky to be on a great ship with a great crew.

“We are currently sailing south, so I am not sure when and where the ship will be able to dock. But, I am confident that the captain will update the crew soon,” she told the Sunday Observer.

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