Cabin Fever: The Harrowing Journey of a Cruise Ship at the Dawn of a Pandemic by Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin: 5*****

COVID! It is the illness that shook the world, and maybe is he pandemic of the century, but nowhere did it strike with more devastating results than on the cruise ship MS Zaandam. and it is this boat  that left Buenos Aires on March 6 2020 that is the subject of this utterly fascinating book about the plight of the ships crew, staff, and passengers.

            By the time the cruise departed there had been prior cruises that had been infected with the COVID virus but for some reason everyone thought that this Holland America ship was protected because they were leaving from South America, far away from where any COVID had been reported. Because of that they were in a hurry to board the boat, they appeared to have forgotten some health inspections of the passengers, and they refused to give passengers a refund who were in a high risk category. The company took the bottom line that everything would be fine leaving from Buenos Aires, and nothing could be further from the truth.

            In Cabin Fever, authors Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin have been able to interview staff, crew, passengers, loved ones, as well as having access to some documentation never before reviewed. Thanks to this they have been able to give us an almost day by day picture of what was going on with the ship that became known as the “Pariah Ship.” Despite leaving from Buenos Aires it didn’t take long for COVID to strike. This is an eye opening look at how not to handle a crisis, because after its third stop in Punta Arenas nobody was willing to open their ports to this boat. It didn’t matter that there were sick individuals on the boat, it didn’t matter that people had died on the boat and more were in danger of dying unless lifesaving medical attention could be procured. No one cared. Yes there were diplomatic and corporate efforts to get countries to open their ports to the boat, but all to no avail and so the boat drifted aimlessly along the West coast of South America hoping to find a friendly port. None were to be found.

            We get to see the heroic efforts that were made by the crew of the Zaandam, the staff that pitched in to do all they could to help the passengers, to help the ever depleting staff in the laundry room, as well as the kitchen area. And when there was an entire boat quarantine while in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, people worked 14+ consecutive hours pushing meals and linen around to every room on the boat. It was truly a gallant effort, but it was doomed. So many people were sick andso many people were dying that the Medical Center could not care for everyone and did not have the appropriate medical supplies. Granted it was the beginning of  COVID In the world but no one had thought to pack extra oxygen, extra medicines or even sufficient and properly functioning COVID tests for use on the boat. For the longest time there was denial that there was COVID, partly because if they acknowledged that there was COVID then no one would accept them in port. Instead it was called and ILI which means influenza like illness. But eventually the truth came out. This boat was infected with COVID, and its origins differed from other boats since it appears that this ships COVID origins may have already been on the boat when the passengers embarked in Buenos Aires.

            No one knows what would have happened had not a few brave individuals stepped forth to pilot this boat through the Panama Canal. But once they were through the canal it was assumed they would find a friendly port in the Caribbean Sea. For years Holland America had been bringing massive numbers of passengers to those islands and were a major source of those islands economies. But those islands refused to open their ports to the ship. Even the United States turned its back on this boat (and its hundreds of US passengers). As fear of COVID gripped the world, and people kept getting sick and dying on the boat,  nobody wanted to help.  Even after the boat was finally allowed to dock many of the passengers and crew were not allowed to get off the boat and so they just floated aimlessly in the Atlantic Ocean until relief was finally found.

            This is a fast reading and harrowing account of the cruise of the Zaandam, as a cruiser I learned a lot about the boats that I have traveled on in the past, and as of now I’m not sure I’m ever going to cruise again. The book is an intense look at a boat, an industry, the people who work on the boat, and the passengers trapped on this floating Petrie jar of COVID. We become friends with the crew and staff and are shocked when they succumb to this illness. The stories are truly horrifying,  and even though we didn’t know much about COVID in 2020, what I did learn is that when fear runs rampant, mans’ humanity to his fellow man goes on a vacation. if there is one book that you should read this year, Cabin Fever is that book.

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