Monday, February 17, 2020
Feb. 17, 2020

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Orcas Island couple end trip waylaid by virus fears

They spent 13 days on ship turned away from five ports

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SEATTLE — After 13 days at sea, Lydia and John Miller’s ship has come in.

The Orcas Island couple had been stuck aboard the Holland America Westerdam cruise ship, which was turned away from five ports because of fears over the coronavirus. This, despite the fact there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus onboard the cruise ship.

The Westerdam was finally allowed to dock in at the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, after the Cambodian Health Ministry announced that 20 samples taken from the ship were confirmed as negative for the coronavirus, Holland America spokeswoman Sally Andrews said in a statement.

“We are pretty happy and pretty relieved,” Lydia Miller said by phone Thursday.

On Thursday morning, passengers started to disembark from the ship with much fanfare. Greeting them were Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen, members of the military and the media.

“There has been a lot of hoopla and celebration and excitement,” Lydia Miller said. “The prime minister of Cambodia came in on a helicopter. We’ve been given scarves as a gift from him and many of us have hung them off our balconies. It was quite a spectacle.”

The Millers — who own an inn and animal sanctuary on Orcas Island — left Singapore Jan. 16 on Holland America’s “30 Day Far East Discovery Tour,” which was scheduled for stops in Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and China.

Ten days into the trip, concerns about the coronavirus started to rise when the disembarkation point of Shanghai was changed to Yokohama, Japan.

Once the ship reached Hong Kong, 1,254 passengers got off and 768 new passengers got on. The Millers later learned the ship wouldn’t spend a scheduled second day in Hong Kong, and instead was headed to Manila.

But when they reached the Philippines, the ship was not allowed to dock because of concerns about the coronavirus. Visits to Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and Cambodia were also canceled.

Lydia Miller said Thursday they passed the time playing “millions of games of ping-pong,” walking 10 miles a day around the ship’s deck and discovering the joys of guava and congee. And because there was no Wi-Fi, they spent a lot of time just … talking.

“It’s brought us closer together,” John Miller said. “We have been married almost 30 years and this is the first time we have had time on our hands to just talk about issues we don’t have time for at home. Just the two of us having a nice time because we weren’t distracted with phone calls and business.

“It really makes you think,” he said. “You have to learn to communicate.”

In a statement, Stein Kruse, CEO of Holland America Group and Carnival U.K. thanked President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Sen, and Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

“We are pleased with the successful resolution of this challenging journey that was complicated by unfounded fears stemming from erroneous information with respect to the medical condition of Westerdam’s guests and crew,” Kruse said. “This has all been a terrible and unfortunate misunderstanding that has impacted 2,257 people on board and hundreds of others shoreside who have worked 24/7 to get our guests home.”

The full disembarkation was expected to take a few days, as the cruise line arranges and pays for charter flights home for the passengers.

Guests have received a full refund, plus an additional full cruise credit.

The Millers aren’t ready to book another cruise again just yet.

“I can’t think about that now,” Lydia Miller said. “When you get on a cruise, you think about all the exciting places you can go, not that your fate might be out of your hands.”

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