(March 20, 2020) As of Wednesday, the 965-foot Norwegian Jewel cruise ship was sailing at 20 knots northeast of American Samoa and bound for Honolulu.
For Ocean City (and former Ocean Pines) residents Ed and Dottie Pinto, who had been stranded at sea for weeks with roughly 3,000 other passengers, at least she was headed somewhere.
Not long after the liner departed Sydney, Australia on Feb. 28 for a 21-day cruise throughout French Polynesia, the global coronavirus bomb exploded and one country after another refused it entry — New Zealand, Fiji, French Polynesia — even Australia, where all passengers and crew were screened before boarding, said they couldn’t return.
So, yes, the Pintos — he’s 80 and she’s in her 70s — knew about the novel coronavirus before they boarded. But the news that it had become a pandemic didn’t break until after the Jewel was underway and had made two stops at South Pacific islands. Subsequently, the Jewel became navis non grata at every harbor in the South Pacific.
The irony of that, Ed Pinto said, is that the Jewel’s passengers are probably safer and healthier than the rest of the world.
“We are a clean ship,” Pinto said Tuesday in a staticky phone call made some 7,000 miles away from the couple’s condominium in the 9400 building.
Although cruise ships are known for episodes of bug-sharing among passengers — top ships calculate that they have 33 cubic feet of space per guest — no one on board this ship had experienced so much as a cold, Pinto said.
That made the refusals to allow the vessel to dock just to take on fuel with no one going ashore, as was the case in Fiji over the weekend, all the more frustrating.
Even in Pago Pago, American Samoa, where the Jewel was allowed to tie up and take on fuel, guards lined the dock to ensure that no one left the ship, he said.
As for being stranded at sea, even on a ship (christened in 2005 in Miami by Melania Trump), that boasts 16 dining options and 15 bar and entertainment venues, Pinto indicated that the novelty wears off.
“You get bored,” he said. “We’ve been at sea for 14 days.”
That maritime limbo should end this weekend in Honolulu, where passengers are expected to be allowed to disembark and, in a way yet to be determined, return home.
That, more than going nowhere in an empty ocean day after day, is what bothers Pinto.
“My concern is when we get there … We’re going to self-isolate with no food in the house. We have absolutely nothing,” he said.
Passengers aboard the Norwegian Jewel are being allowed to disembark today in Hawaii. No illness has been reported. Now, depending on how long it will take to return to Ocean City, the Pintos face the prospect of returning to a home with an empty pantry.