The true story of the Holland America cruise ship Zaandam, which set sail with a deadly and little-understood stowaway—COVID-19—days before the world shut down in March 2020. This riveting narrative thriller takes readers behind the scenes with passengers and crew who were caught unprepared for the deadly ordeal that lay ahead.
In early 2020, the world was on edge. An ominous virus was spreading on different continents, and no one knew what the coming weeks would bring. Far from the hot spots, the cruise ship Zaandam, owned by Holland America, was preparing to sail from Buenos Aires, Argentina, loaded with 1,200 passengers—Americans, Europeans and South Americans, plus 600 crew.
Most passengers were over the age of sixty-five. There was concern about the virus on the news, and it had already killed and sickened passengers on other Holland America ships. But that was oceans away, and escaping to sea at the ends of the earth for a few weeks seemed like it might be a good option. The cruise line had said the voyage (three weeks around the South American coastline to see some of the world’s most stunning natural wonders and ancient ruins) would carry on as scheduled, with no refunds. And it would be safe.
Among the travelers there is a retired American school superintendent on a dream vacation with his wife of fifty-six years, on a personal quest to see Machu Picchu. There is an Argentine psychologist taking this trip to celebrate her sixty-fourth birthday with her husband, though she finds herself fretting in her cabin on day one, trying to dismiss her fears of what she’s hearing on the news. There is an Indonesian laundry manager who's been toiling on Holland America cruise ships for thirty years, sending his monthly paycheck to his family back home.
Within days, people aboard Zaandam begin to fall sick. The world’s ports shut down. Zaandam becomes a top story on the news and is denied safe harbor everywhere. With only two doctors aboard and few medical supplies to test for or treat COVID-19, and with dwindling food and water, the ship wanders the oceans on an unthinkable journey.
A deadly virus stows away aboard the cruise ship Zaandam on its trip around South America in this gripping chronicle of the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Journalists Smith and Franklin (A Wild Idea) recount how nearly 200 passengers and crew members fell sick as the Zaandam remained at sea for 21 days in March 2020. Though Holland America executives were monitoring Covid-19 before the Zaandam set sail on March 8, they believed the 781-foot-long ship was "immune to such threats," and took almost no precautions. There were no temperature checks upon boarding, no policies regarding masks and social distancing, no test kits, and only two doctors and four nurses to care for the crew and the largely retired and elderly passengers. As the ship's medical center filled with patients struggling to breathe, the crew following corporate mandates continued to promote group activities, causing more people to fall ill. Refused entry by port after port as the world awoke to the dangers of Covid-19, the Zaandam's passengers and crew members hunkered down in their cabins and were horrified to learn that several of their shipmates died. Extensive firsthand testimony and the authors' brisk, matter-of-fact style enrich this propulsive account of how a holiday cruise turned into a nightmare. Readers will be riveted and appalled.