Shared from the 3/24/2020 The Providence Journal eEdition


R.I. natives stranded off Chile in ‘a very nice jail’


Paula and Phillip Morrison, Woonsocket natives living on Cape Cod, at their 50th wedding anniversary last November. The couple is now trapped on a Holland America cruise ship off Chile, unable to dock anywhere because of the coronavirus.



I asked Woonsocket natives Paula and Phillip Morrison how they're holding up.

It seemed the right question for two older folks who’ve been stuck on a Holland America cruise ship off Chile because of the coronavirus.

All 1,243 guests are confined to their rooms because around 40 aboard have flu-like symptoms, though with no confirmed COVID-19.

The two, who celebrated their 50th last November in their Cape Cod home in Orleans, have been aboard 10 days and have no clue when it will end.

Paula, 71, is a retired operating-room nurse, and Philip, 72, works on defense communications tech for Maryland-based Leidos Corporation.

They’re trying to keep a sense of humor.

“We have a very nice jail,” Phillip said of their room. “But it’s like solitary confinement.”

CNN reportedthere are still 30 cruise ships worldwide unable to come to port.

A month ago, a few such ships had coronavirus cases, but cruise firms still felt it safe to launch trips as recently as March 13.

That’s when the Morrisons, who’d planned the cruise a year ago, flew to Buenos Aires, boarded Holland America's Zandaam and headed to sea.

They got in a few good days, including a penguin-watching stop on the barren Falkland Islands.

“They’re very squawky,” Paula said.

Then the door slammed shut. Chile announced it was closing ports to passenger ships. Other countries did the same.

“We didn’t think it would blow up like this,” said Paula.

I found out about the Morrisons from Paula’s sister, Denise Pelletier of Swansea. She’s an academic tester and former teacher.

Denise had been calling the State Department for help bringing the ship in. No luck.

“I’m very nervous,” she said.

Though cellphone service is spotty, I managed to connect with Paula and Philip Tuesday as they sat in their cabin cruising north.

The ship’s current plan is to aim for Fort Lauderdale by March 31, but Panama has yet to give permission to use the canal to get there.

It was supposed to be a 14-day cruise, but four days in, the ship pivoted with a plan to dock before ports closed. Most aboard, including the Morrisons, scrambled to rebook flights home from nearby airports.

But those bookings were left hanging.

On Sunday the 15th, Chile shut down its docks.

Paula opened her calendar that day and wryly entered the words: “At sea forever.”

I told her she had a good sense of humor.

“What else are you going to do,” she said, “jump off?”

At first, folks could still use the ship’s amenities. But days ago, a few dozen developed cold symptoms, and the cabin-confinement order went out.

Now, meals are set outside their room.

Paula said the internet has slowed to a crawl from so many using it.

“This morning,” she told me, “I was up at 3 a.m. and finally able to send an email.”

But there wasn’t enough bandwidth to send me onboard photos of the two.

At least warmer weather has allowed balcony time.

“Every now and then some birds fly by,” Paula said — a high point of entertainment.

So are meals, but with supply shifted to flotillas of small local boats delivering food, they never know what they’ll get.

She told me that neither of them like scrambled eggs.

This morning, breakfast was scrambled eggs.

Paula doesn’t like eggplant, either — too soggy.

A mainstay of lunch today was eggplant.

I asked if 50 years of marriage makes it easier to be cooped up together.

“Easier in some ways and harder than others,” said Phillip.

Paula said that back home, she often makes scones for Phillip — a favorite — and has told him if he misbehaves, no more scones.

Suddenly, I heard a voice come over the room’s speaker. The captain.

“We’ll make you as comfortable as possible,” he said, “while we work on a plan to get you off.” But there was still no sure solution.

The good news, he added, is that only a handful of additional guests have reported cold symptoms, with no extreme cases.

That, said Paula, was a relief, since many aboard are elderly, and she knows COVID-19 can be dangerous.

Paula and Phillip’s biggest fear is Panama’s threat to bar the ship from the canal if people aboard have respiratory illness.

“I don’t know what they’re afraid of,” she said. “Nobody would be getting off.”

But closed doors have become common.

The two feel a bit like global castaways — admittedly in a nice room, but still forsaken.

I told them it was snowing in Providence as we spoke. Paula, in balmy equator weather, said she’d gladly trade places.

She yearns to work in her garden, and Phillip misses his garage wood shop.

But they have no idea when they’ll be home.

The coronavirus has stranded the Morrisons at sea. mpatinki@

(401) 277-7370 On Twitter:@markpatinkin

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