Nova Scotia

'They need to reach out to us': Canadians on Norwegian Jewel trying to get on government's radar

A Canadian tourist who says there are hundreds of Canadian passengers aboard a cruise ship that is being turned away from one port after another during the COVID-19 crisis, has a message for the federal government: "They need to reach out to us."

Cruise ship that left Australia last month not allowed to dock due to COVID-19 crisis

The Norwegian Jewel is shown passing underneath the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver. The cruise ship left Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 28, before the Canadian government banned all cruise ships with more than 500 passengers from docking until July. It is currently heading for Honolulu, although it appears it won't be permitted to dock there either. (Uytae Lee)

A Canadian tourist who says there are hundreds of Canadian passengers aboard a cruise ship that keeps being turned away from one port after another during the COVID-19 crisis has a message for the federal government: "They need to reach out to us."

The cruise ship, which left Sydney, Australia on Feb. 28 before the federal government banned all cruise ships carrying more than 500 people from docking at Canadian ports until July, is currently heading for Honolulu, although it appears it won't be permitted to dock there either. 

Dr. Ross Anderson, a retired chief of dentistry at the IWK children's hospital in Halifax who's aboard the ship, said while citizens of other countries on the ship have heard from their governments, Canadians have not. 

"One of my biggest concerns is for the Canadian elderly and frail on board, who are becoming somewhat anxious," said Anderson by phone while the ship was off American Samoa in the South Pacific on Wednesday.

Canadian Ross Anderson, a retired chief of dentistry at the IWK children’s hospital in Halifax, is aboard the Norwegian Jewel. He said while citizens of other countries on the cruise ship have heard from their governments, Canadians have not. (LinkedIn)

He said Australian and German tourists were being kept well-informed by their governments. 

The Foreign Affairs Department said late Thursday it is aware of 347 Canadians on the Norwegian Jewel and stands ready to provide consular assistance.

Limited phone and internet access 

Anderson said phone and internet access on the ship was limited, but those who were able to get calls through to Foreign Affairs got voicemail.

"It's an automated message saying, 'Get home quick,'" said Anderson.  

On Thursday, a Foreign Affairs spokesperson said in a statement to CBC News the department is in touch with cruise lines and recommends "that Canadians currently on cruise ships continue to follow up with cruise line officials in order to stay aware of the latest information about docking and departing." 

The statement said once the docking has been arranged, "passengers may then be able to explore departure options to return home."  

Anderson said the Australians aboard the ship have at least received a letter stating that their government is aware of the situation and that they will engage once the ship gets to a port.

He said the letter was issued to the Australian passengers through the cruise line, and he's asking the Canadian government to do the same thing.

Canada tracking more than 100 cruise ships

Anderson said he understands there are Canadians elsewhere in worse situations. He wants the government to let the Canadian passengers on the Norwegian Jewel know they are on its radar and will receive help eventually. 

Anderson did reach a family member who contacted the offices of Halifax MPs Andy Fillmore and Geoff Regan and was told Foreign Affairs was aware of the situation.  

The problem, Anderson said, is that the other Canadians on board have not received the same message. 

In an interview with CBC News yesterday, Regan confirmed that he's aware of the situation.

"What I've heard today is that they've been denied the privilege of disembarking in Honolulu, so that is very concerning," Regan said. 

He said the government is tracking more than 100 cruise ships carrying Canadians. 

Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is working hard to bring as many Canadians as possible home. 

"We recognize that that will be a challenge. That's why we sent out a text message to all Canadians overseas with information on how to share their situation and get in touch with consular services," he said. 

It's unclear whether any Canadian passengers on the Norwegian Jewel received this message.

Trudeau has acknowledged not all Canadians will get home in the coming weeks.  

Anderson said he's still hopeful the government will help get the cruise passengers home. 

He said the cruise line had told them not to try to book flights home from Honolulu, because previous attempts to dock in New Zealand and Fiji resulted in six- to eight-hour waits in line to book and cancel flights. 

"The elderly, computer-illiterate were left scrambling and upset," Anderson said.

Phishing scam concerns

He's also concerned they'd be vulnerable to various phishing scams that have emerged, including an online post that asks people on board the Norwegian Jewel to email their passport numbers, among other personal information, to the Australian Consulate in Hawaii.   

Regan said that's a "very big concern, and I'll certainly pass that on."

Anderson said for now, the ship has adequate provisions, including "toilet paper and enough spirits to keep our spirits high." 

He's confident there are no COVID-19 cases on the Norwegian Jewel because everyone has been on the vessel for more than 14 days — the period within which symptoms typically appear. 

"We are probably, right now, in one of the safest places in the world … but please let the government of Canada know they need to reach out to us."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kayla Hounsell

Senior reporter

Kayla Hounsell is a network reporter with CBC News based in Halifax. She covers the Maritime provinces for CBC national news on television, radio and online. She welcomes story ideas at kayla.hounsell@cbc.ca.

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