Elderly passengers on stricken cruise ship finally get “pack your bags” order. But did it take far too long?

20 March 2020 By Paul Martin

By Paul Martin

British passengers who had been cooped up in their cabins for eight days since a corona virus victim was taken off their cruise liner in a Brazilian port have expressed relief that the British government has finally chartered an aircraft to take them home.

The plane is transporting 108 British passengers and an unknown number of crew members on the Silver Shadow back to Britain, according to an email sent to them by British ambassador Vijay Rangarajan.

“Pack your bags,” he emailed. Rangarajan thanked them for “showing strength and patience in difficult circumstances”.  

The son of an elderly couple trapped on board, Alan and Gwen Cohen, both in their eighties, of north London, had previously expressed his anger that the 108 passengers were still on the vessel.

Malcolm Cohen said the Foreign Office was putting elderly passengers at risk. It had been applying double standards, he told correspondent.world, because they had acted much faster to rescue hundreds of other Britons on another vessel, the Braemar, which is owned by a British company.

On Wednesday the Braemar’s passengers were sent three charter flights and left within hours of finding a port in the Caribbean that would allow them to dock.

While in his email the ambassador said he had spoken by phone to some of the passengers, he did not get through to the Cohens. Speaking on his mobile phone Alan, aged 89, told correspondent.world that they had heard nothing from the ambassador or from any other British official.

Their son Malcolm said the ambassador had set up a Twitter feed, but elderly passengers in particular, including his parents, had no idea about how to receive tweets.

“I know it must have been another long and frustrating day for you,” the ambassador acknowledged in his email.

He did not apologise but wrote: “I’m very aware this has taken longer than any of us would have wanted.”

 There had been “many issues to work through”, the ambassador said, including logistics, health and quarantine regulations, and airport and immigration matters.

He also said the owners of the ship, Silversea, had found it difficult to find a plane to charter because of the “global complications in air travel” caused by the worldwide corona virus emergency.

The Silver Shadow had been placed in quarantine after a 78-year-old Canadian passenger was taken to hospital with corona virus symptoms. The ship captain claimed in a tannoy announcement to passengers on Wednesday that tests on other passengers and crew had turned out negative.

The 21-day cruise along the south American coast and the Caribbean had been due to end in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on March 21. Instead, passengers on the Silver Shadow had to get food trays left outside their cabin doors, and the port authorities refused to allow any rubbish from the vessel to be taken ashore.

Here is the exclusive phone interview correspondent.world did with the couple before the “pack your bags” announcement:

From his cabin, one of the 108 British passengers trapped on board the Silver Shadow, told correspondent.world in an exclusive interview : “We’ve been bored but well.

“It’s been frustrating of course. But at least we have a cabin with a balcony and we can shout to our next-door ‘inmates’,” Alan Cohen, 89, said.

“I feel sorry for those passengers who don’t even have balconies. To be enclosed like that is a very unpleasant experience.

Alan Cohen, 89, speaking on a WhatsApp call from his cabin in which he and his wife Gwen ae confined.

Gwen, 86, told correspondent.world: “I feel this was an overreaction.”

But Alan thinks the crew and the authorities handled things efficiently.

“In my opinion they have been doing it reasonably. You would think we’ve all got it, but you heard what the captain just said: there is no-one on the ship who has any sign of it.

Asked why, at their late-eighties ages, they had gone on a cruise in the current environment, Alan said: “It was a very difficult decision. We were thinking of cancelling it but there was not the hype there is now. We thought going up the South American coast we would be free of all this.

“The doctor and a nurse came once a day, rang the doorbell. We cautiously opened the door and there they were, dressed in all-white coverings and mask and so on, as if they came from another world.

“The doctor stood by the door. His nurse actually put that thermometer thing about half an inch from our heads, and called out the readings. The doctor told us our temperatures were normal.

“The food was left outside the door, but first a crew member left us a menu. They looked after us very well.”

In recent years Alan, who turns 90 this summer, has lectured on cruise ships about the History of Art and its links with music, though he says this is “just a hobby”.

He said they could afford a cruise on the recently refurbished upmarket Silver Shadow as he had worked all his life in a family business that owned five factories.

“We manufactured furniture in woods and plastics, mainly in east London.”

Alan said the couple had had an active communal life. “Both my wife and myself were magistrates (me till 1990). I was also a Councillor in the London Borough of Barnet about 50 years ago.

“We got married when Gwen was 20 and I was 23, in Glasgow, but lived most of our lives from then on in London.

“We had hoped to celebrate our 66th anniversary (on the 16th March) in style on this cruise.  Instead, we’ve had to raise a cup of tea, confined inside our cabin this time – definitely no champagne!”

From their wedding to their 65th anniversary celebration. Their ‘celebrated’ their 66th confined to their cabin on the 16th March.

“At least we could wave from our balcony to others out on their balconies.

“We could all phone each other via the internal cabin to cabin system, and hear announcements from the captain.

Promotion video for Silver Shadow cruise ship, hosting 388 guests, after 30 million dollar refurbishment in 2018.

“The nice thing was how sociable everyone on board this cruise was.

“And yes, I am looking forward to another cruise some day!”

Gwen Cohen, 86, in a WhatsApp chat from the cabin in which she and her husband Alan are confined.

Asked how much money they had spent in going on the cruise, Alan answered: “The total cost of a trip like this was high – I’d rather not say how much! We have some travel and cruise insurance, so we will be able to get back a certain amount of it.

“It doesn’t really matter. All we want is to get back happily and safely ourselves.”

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