“Well, we are still sailing and unable to land anywhere,” Fort Smith resident Nicola O’Keefe posted to Facebook on Monday – from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Nicola and husband Jeff are aboard the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship. While the ship has no Covid-19 cases, it has reportedly been refused permission to dock in French Polynesia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia.
The Jewel is now heading to American Samoa to refuel, with hundreds of passengers – including the NWT’s O’Keefes – on board and unable to leave.
Reached by Cabin Radio via Facebook Messenger as there’s no cell service, Nicola was quick to say the couple doesn’t feel trapped. The O’Keefes woke at 2:30am to use the ship’s computers and communicate with the outside world, avoiding the long daytime lines for internet access.
“The ship we are on has no virus,” Nicola wrote. “Interestingly, due to the intense cleaning, there aren’t even the regular sicknesses.
“The captain says we are probably the safest place on Earth. From what I see on the news, I tend to agree.”
Jeff, in a post to Facebook, said the onboard sanitation was “intense” with walls and handrails washed several times a day.
“In the buffet you cannot touch any food and someone has to serve you,” he said. “I actually think that Norwegian is doing the best they possibly can in a very difficult situation.”
The O’Keefes are territorial government workers who took advantage of the NWT’s deferred salary leave plan, which allows staff to work four years at 80 percent of their full salary in order to claim a fifth, paid year off.
Using their year to travel the world, the couple spent the past 11 months documenting the trip on a website.
Now, marooned aboard the Norwegian Jewel, they are passing the time by playing trivia and sitting by the pool. Both said they are thankful they aren’t quarantined to their rooms, like passengers on ships where coronavirus has broken out.
The Jewel was supposed to dock in Hawaii on April 3 after 35 days at sea. The O’Keefes left Australia aboard the ship on February 28.
After being turned away at multiple ports, the ship is now headed toward Honolulu early.
Jeff, in a Facebook post detailing every twist and turn of the voyage, noted the passengers had experienced March 12 twice as they crossed the international date line heading east to Tahiti.
“Then we turned back toward Fiji and crossed the international date line going west, so we completely skipped March 13,” he said.
“We just crossed the international date line for the third time and so we are repeating March 16 completely. This feels like Groundhog Day.”
A photo of the Norwegian Jewel’s path. Photo: Families of Norwegian Jewel Passengers Facebook group
Nicola said the concern right now is the last leg of their eventual trip home through multiple airports. They are hoping for as direct a flight as possible to Fort Smith, where they will then need to self-isolate for two weeks.
“For now we are safe and sound,” finished Jeff’s post. “Think about us on an extended holiday in the South Pacific. The biggest issue may be how much weight we will gain at the buffet.”
A few hours after Cabin Radio spoke with the O’Keefes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed Canadians who remain overseas in a news conference.
The prime minister sternly urged those still outside the country: “Let me be clear. If you’re abroad, it’s time for you to come home.”