A Holland America Line ship.
  • On Tuesday, Thailand became the fifth country to deny entry to the Westerdam luxury liner amid coronavirus fears.
  • The Westerdam, operated by Holland America Line, departed from Hong Kong on February 1 for a 14-day cruise to Taiwan and Japan.
  • Though Holland America Line said none of the ship's 1,455 guests or 802 crew members had the coronavirus, it has been turned away by Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and the US territory of Guam.
  • The World Health Organisation said Thai officials might board the ship to investigate the passengers' health conditions "to determine whether they would be allowed to eventually disembark in Thailand."
  • Passengers have grown concerned after being stranded at sea, while others are trying to keep their spirits up.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

The Westerdam luxury liner is in limbo after it was denied entry to port by yet another country as panic about the deadly coronavirus mounts.

Thailand on Tuesday became the latest country to block the cruise ship's passengers from disembarking. It had already been turned away by ports in Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and the US territory of Guam.

Operated by Holland America Line, the Westerdam departed from Hong Kong on February 1 for a 14-day cruise to Taiwan and Japan with 1,455 guests and 802 crew members on board, Holland America Line said.

Beijing's National Health Commission said on Tuesday that the coronavirus had infected more than 42,600 people and killed more than 1,000 people in China since it was first reported on December 31.

It is this soaring number of cases that has stoked fear among Thai officials, even though Holland America Line said last week that "the ship is not in quarantine and there are no known cases of coronavirus on board."

'Permission to dock refused'

Thailand's public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, directed officials to prevent the Westerdam's passengers from getting off in Laem Chabang, writing on Facebook, "I have issued orders. Permission to dock refused," Reuters reported.

Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate echoed the sentiment on Facebook but said the country was prepared to help the ship with food, medicine, and fuel, Reuters said.

The World Health Organisation offered some hope to weary travelers, saying in a statement to Bloomberg that Thai officials "may seek to board the ship to determine the health status of passengers and crew, to determine whether they would be allowed to eventually disembark in Thailand."

In a media briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO's health-emergencies program, said: "We need to ensure that there's neither an overreaction or an under-reaction. We need a proper risk-management approach to this."

Ryan said that while people won't be able to stop traveling, attending conferences, or doing other activities that involve crowds, and that we "need for our societies, civilisations, and economies to move" amid the coronavirus outbreak, heightened concern was expected.

"We must accept that in such circumstances there is no such thing as zero risk," he said. "We must minimise risks. We must protect people and be ready to react appropriately should something untoward or something unexpected happen."

He also called out governments that blocked the Westerdam's requests to dock, reminding them that the"dignity and human rights of travelers" must be upheld.

Holland America Line, which is owned by Carnival Corporation, said on Friday that guests were "safe and well cared for" and had been provided free internet and phone access.

"The ship has sufficient fuel and food provisions to last until the end of the voyage," it said, adding that "this is a very dynamic situation as we continue to manage around evolving and changing restrictions in the region."

Holland America Line did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

'Back in limbo again'

Stephen Hansen, who's traveling with his wife, told Bloomberg that news on Monday that passengers might be allowed to disembark in Thailand was met with great relief - and a rush to book flights home.

That hope fell flat on Tuesday.

"To have that snatched away at the last minute with no other solution at hand was very upsetting," Hansen said. "So we are back in limbo again."

His daughter, Maren Hansen, began a Twitter campaign to raise awareness of the Westerdam's plight and bring her parents and other passengers home. On Thursday, she shared a video of Stephen Hansen telling the Canadian TV network Global News that passengers were learning more from news outlets than from the Westerdam's crew.

A Twitter user with the name AJ echoed Stephen Hansen's feeling of despair.

AJ also urged the US government to rescue Americans.

Steve Muth, from Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press on Sunday that the cruise was a way for him and his family to celebrate good health and a college graduation. But he said the turn of events had been extremely stressful.

"We are floating around the ocean," he said. "We've been denied, essentially, every port, every country since leaving Hong Kong."

'Cruise life is anything but boring'

By contrast, Christina Kerby's tweets - in which she's reported on the ship's peanut-butter supplies and cereal rations, wondered about the ice-cream flavour of the day, and lamented inevitable weight gain - have been laced with humour.

"Cruise life is anything but boring," she tweeted on Tuesday.

Kerby said that to help pass the time, she was learning how to fold bath towels into decorative shapes and had joined a "Westerdam cycling club" that has likely ridden hundreds of nautical miles as they wait to get information and to disembark.

She also thanked the Westerdam's staff, mentioning that many crew members are from the Philippines and that being unable to dock there meant some missed out on being introduced to their newborn children.

About 40% of @HALcruises#Westerdam staff are from the Philippines. When we had to skip port in Manila many people missed the chance to see their families - and some to meet their babies for the first time. Salamat to these hardworking heroes.

The Westerdam's medical facilities fall short

A Twitter user with the name Scott Willett on Tuesday appealed to President Donald Trump to help passengers, saying that his daughter "needs medical attention.

Willett told Insider that he was not on the Westerdam but that his daughter, Rebecca, is. The 25-year-old from Virginia Beach, Virginia, is a classical pianist who belongs to a musical quintet that performs on the ship.

"She has an apparent ruptured ovarian cyst," Willett said. "She has been given pain medication by the ship medical staff ... along with antibiotics. Both a ship doctor and her personal doctor both recommended an ultrasound to determine the extent of the rupture. The Westerdam is not equipped with ultrasound equipment."

Despite - and perhaps because of - the uncertainty about the Westerdam, the show must go on, and performers like Rebecca continue to get up on stage to entertain the guests. But Willett said Rebecca's condition and the pain it's caused her had forced her to miss a few shows.

Willett said he thinks that since no one on board the ship has tested positive for the coronavirus, passengers are mainly worried about getting home and frustrated because "information has been tough to come by" and is "mostly limited to one morning announcement by the ship crew."

While they wait for more information, he and his wife have reached out to local senators' offices and said officials were "looking into the matter."

"We are very concerned about the unknown extent of her condition," Willett said. "Without an ultrasound, it is impossible to know how serious the rupture may be. We are praying for a quick resolution and that she gets the appropriate care so that she may come home soon."

Travel woes are on the rise as the coronavirus worsens

As coronavirus fears escalate, cruise ships - which often have thousands of people on board, with uncertainty about where some have traveled or who they have come in contact with - have been in the spotlight in recent weeks.

On February 3, the Diamond Princess, which has 3,700 people on board, docked in Yokohama and was issued a 14-day quarantine. On Monday, the number of coronavirus cases on the cruise ship shot up to 136 from 70, prompting Indian crew members to beg their government to rescue them before they, too, get infected.

Last Friday, 27 Chinese nationals were escorted off the Anthem of the Seas in Bayonne, New Jersey, to be tested for the coronavirus; four were taken to a local hospital. The cruise ship, which is part of Royal Caribbean's fleet and was carrying more than 4,100 passengers and crew members back from the Bahamas, was forced to delay another cruise scheduled for later that day.

Within hours, Royal Caribbean had also barred people with passports from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau from boarding its ships and enforced other restrictions.

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