‘Please, my son is sick’: Desperate pleas for Filipinos onboard stranded ship

Lian Buan

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‘Please, my son is sick’: Desperate pleas for Filipinos onboard stranded ship


Filipino crew onboard cruise ship Zaandam tell their worried relatives they're getting sick, but there is nothing they can do but wait

MANILA, Philippines – Relatives of Filipinos onboard the coronavirus-stricken cruise ship Zaandam are getting desperate by the day, hearing stories of crewmen falling sick as days go by without a clear plan to evacuate them from the sea.

Four passengers have already reportedly died onboard the Zaandam, which left Buenos Aires on March 7 and had its last stop in Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia on March 14.

Since then, ports have rejected the ship after reporting that 42 people onboard were suffering from flu-like symptoms. The only evacuation so far are for healthy passengers, leaving sick guests and crew onboard. 

“Please, my son is sick, ang concern ko is palalalain n’yo pa ba (my concern is will you wait for him to get worse)?” said Elena* about her son Peter*, a service crew of the Zaandam. 

Their real names are being withheld upon their request. 

According to Elena, Peter told her there are around 100 Filipino crew at the Zaandam and some of them have been isolated after exhibiting symptoms.

“Maraming may sakit na Pilipino, paano kung magkakahawa ‘yan, lalong lalala,” Elena told Rappler. (Many Filipinos are sick, what if they infect each other? The situation will get worse.) 

Peter has been experiencing nausea, but according to Elena the medical care onboard has not been adequate, with the ship doctor only consulting through telephone.

Elena also claimed not one of the remaining people onboard had been tested.

Elena has had to ask physicians and specialists in the Philippines to join her on calls with her son, which have been getting shorter and less frequent because of poor signal.

The Zaandam is flying under the Dutch flag and operated by the Holland America group.

‘Nahihirapan daw siyang huminga’

Elena and Peter are lucky to still be able to make calls as often as they are.

Jenny* is getting more anxious about not being able to freely call her husband Matthew* because the latter only uses free Whatsapp, opting to avoid paying for data onboard the Zaandam.

Last she heard from him, he was having difficulty breathing.

“Isolated siya, mag-10 days na, kasi may ubo, sore throat, sumasakit ‘yung katawan niya, nahihirapan daw po siyang huminga. Dalawa sila sa kwarto, ang sabi niya po ‘nung recent ‘yung kasama niya ay um-okay na,” Jenny told Rappler.

(He has been isolated for 10 days because he has cough, sore throat, body aches and difficulty of breathing. He shares a room with another person, and he told me recently that his roommate is now okay.)

Jenny gave birth to their first child only last February.

“Iisipin mo ‘yung asawa mo, hawak mo baby, tinitingnan mo ‘yung cell phone mo (You’re thinking about your husband, but you’re also holding your baby, and then looking at the cell phone),” Jenny said.

“Hindi na ako nakakatulog (I have not been able to sleep),” she added.

‘Sana kumilos na’

In its latest update on Facebook on Monday, March 30, local manning agency United Philippine Lines (UPL), which deployed the Filipino crew to the Zaandam, said that the ship is scheduled to dock at Fort Lauderdale in Florida on April 2.

“Bagaman hindi pa kumpirmado, inaasahan na mapapasailalim ang mga barko kasama ang crew at pasahero sa labing-apat (14) na araw na quarantine,” the UPL said. (Although that is not confirmed yet, we expect that our crew will be placed under a 14-day quarantine.) 

Elena and Jenny both told Rappler that updates from the UPL have been scarce.

The relatives have taken the initiative to organize themselves and collate all names of Filipino servicemen and their current health conditions, which they passed on to the UPL for monitoring.

Elena said she is hoping for government intervention too.

“Sana kumilos to bring them home because Canada was the one who talked to Panama,” Elena said. (I hope they do something because it was Canada who talked to Panama.)

The Canadian government coordinated with the government of Panama to let the Zaandam transit via the Panama Canal. Over 200 guests of the Zaandam are Canadians.

Rappler has reached out to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for a statement and also to verify the exact number of Filipino crew onboard the Zaandam, but we have not received a response as of writing. 

We will update this story once the DFA responds. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.