Hell on high seas: Aussies stuck on death ship
More than a hundred Australians stranded aboard a coronavirus-riddled cruise ship are in fear for their lives and desperate for help as their ship has been repeatedly denied docking rights for more than a week.
Four passengers have died aboard the Holland America Line Zaandam ship, which has been blocked from docking in a number of South American countries.
The ship was last night hopeful of being granted permission to travel through the Panama Canal in a bid to reach the east coast of the USA and hopefully find a port willing to unload the passengers.
The situation the passengers are in mirrors that of crew on cruise ships off the NSW coast, who are now blocked from disembarking here following the Ruby Princess fiasco.
All 131 Australians on-board the Zaandam are expected to be transferred to another ship in the next 48 hours, where they will then hopefully be assisted to return to Australia.
Four people on the ship have already died, including at least two confirmed COVID-19 cases, and more than 100 passengers and crew have flu-like symptoms.
About 1000 people have so far been transferred to a sister ship - the Rotterdam - and a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman told The Daily Telegraph the remainder of the passengers were expected to be removed in the next two days.
"Australian consular officials from both Los Angeles and Mexico City are in direct contact with Australian passengers and the ship operator to provide consular assistance," the spokesman said.
"We note passengers have received extra medication, where required."
Brisbane woman Jodie McNamara, 30, has lost contact with her mother, Shirley Maclaren, who is stuck on the ship.
"I have not heard from her in about 22-hours," Ms McNamara said on Sunday.
"We had been speaking via WhatsApp, texts, voice calls that type of stuff. I'm terrified for mum, she has some pre-existing health conditions and I'm just so worried about her. She is trapped in her room and now I think they have been cut off from communicating.
"I feel angry about the whole situation. My mum is not a risk-taker or a daredevil. She started this cruise on the last day of February, before things were this bad. She would never want to put herself or anyone at risk. I'm angry, they're not being allowed off the ship, these people are humans and they are not being treated that way."
Ms McNamara on Sunday shared her desperate text message conversations with there mum before she lost contact with her.
The Zaandam was due to dock at San Antonio, Chile on March 21 but attempted to dock earlier when multiple people reported flu-like symptoms. The ship was then refused entry at various ports, including at Punta Arenas, Chile on March 14.
It was initially denied permission to travel through the Panama Canal, but Panama relented on Sunday, on the condition the ship not dock in the country.
It is now expected to sail on to Fort Lauderdale in Florida after all healthy passengers are transferred onto the Rotterdam.
Similar situations have occurred close to home, with the cruise ship Artania turned away from Cape Town in South Africa, before Australia offered to allow healthy passengers to disembark in Western Australia to be flown back to Germany.
The ship plans to return to Southampton in the UK. There are now eight cruise ships off the coast of NSW, including four that have had confirmed coronavirus patients.
Among them is the Ruby Princess, which is carrying 1148 crew, the Voyager of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Celebrity Solstice.
Other Australians on-board the Zaandam include retirees David and Fiona Grant, who were enjoying a 51-day holiday of a lifetime but have been stuck in their windowless cabin since March 17.
In their "nightmarish" 12 days of isolation, the Grants have only left their "cell-like' room once for a carefully monitored half-hour stroll on the deck.
"It was meant to be our holiday to end all holidays, but the rest has been cancelled now, it's a nightmare," Mr Grant said.
"We all boasted we were in the safest place on earth on-board because nobody was sick, but days later everyone got told not to leave their cabins."
NSW Police have insisted they make "no apologies" for the state's hard line stance on cruise ships.
Originally published as Hell on high seas: Aussies stuck on death ship