‘We were on a cruise to nowhere’: Coronavirus scare kept Wyevale woman stuck aboard ship

When Angela Ingram left Wyevale on Jan. 31, she was hoping to enjoy a 14-day cruise from Hong Kong to Yokohama, Japan.

Instead, she ended up cruising around the South China Sea for 20 days.

“We were supposed to stop at 10 different ports, but each one turned the ship away. So we basically just floated around at sea for three weeks,” said Ingram, 73, who arrived home Feb. 21.

Ingram was one of 1,455 passengers on the MS Westerdam, a Holland American Line cruise ship that departed Hong Kong on Feb. 1. Immediately after their departure, concerns around the coronavirus spiked and the Japanese government refused to let the ship into any ports.

“We were on a cruise to nowhere,” said Ingram.

Although no passengers had tested positive for the virus, fear around the rapidly spreading disease forced a number of Asian countries into lockdown.

“We had been tested every step of the way — at the airport in Hong Kong, when we were getting on the ship and again once we were on the ship. All tests were clear,” said Ingram.

On Feb. 7, Holland American officials began searching for a way to get all of the passengers home.

They received permission to dock in Bangkok, Thailand, on Feb. 13. However, when the ship arrived, they were met with a naval destroyer, which blocked their entrance into the harbour.

The Westerdam finally managed to disembark in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, on Feb. 17 after 17 days at sea. Each passenger was presented with a handmade scarf by Cambodian officials upon arrival.

“The cruise line did an amazing job,” said Ingram. “They kept us entertained and kept us fed even though they weren’t prepared to do so.”

Before passengers were allowed into Cambodia, they all had to be swab tested.

“We all thought it would be like what you see on TV, where they swish something around your mouth,” said Ingram. “But they had a piece of hard plastic three inches long and shoved it right up your nose to almost your eye. Then another piece of plastic was shoved down your throat. Some people were crying because it was very uncomfortable.”

One test came back positive, which resulted in retesting.

Officials later discovered the test was a false positive. By Feb. 18, all passengers and crew members had been tested and were all negative for the coronavirus.

“We were never under quarantine and there was never a single person who was sick,” said Ingram.

Ten coach buses and four accessible vans transported the passengers from the Cambodian coast to an airport in Phnom Penh.

Holland American chartered a Turkish plane to fly them home. Initially, the plane was supposed to land in Istanbul, Turkey, but while in the air their permission to land was rescinded. The plane diverted to Karachi, Pakistan, to refuel before continuing on to Amsterdam.

Ingram flew from Amsterdam to London, England, and then to Toronto.

Holland American provided full refunds to all passengers and covered all costs associated with getting them home.

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