Holland America Line Oosterdam
Circle Hawaii Cruise from San Diego
October 22-November 5, 2011
Recent news out of South America regarding dozens of passengers
falling ill aboard Holland America Line’s Veendam had me thinking
about our own trip a few weeks ago, and the need to be prepared for
just about anything when traveling, especially a long way from home.
Most times everything goes swimmingly and everybody comes home safe
and sound. But like just about everything else in life, one must be
prepared for curveballs.
Onboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam Hawaii Circle cruise a few
weeks ago, I was once again reminded why we always purchased travel
insurance and why everybody, especially those traveling outside the
United States or on cruise ships should, too. Cruise Diva has
written about this in the past, but when you personally witness a
medical evacuation at sea, you really begin to understand how
important this becomes, for your sanity and for your pocketbook.
Medical evacuations from a cruise ship such as the kind I’m about to
describe can cost the passenger up to $20,000. This is generally not
covered by your usual medical/health insurance policy in effect back
home on a normal non-cruise day. The cost of such evacuations and
indeed medical care onboard a cruise ship is much more expensive
than you can imagine. It also cost our Captain and Holland America
Line about $250,000 in extra fuel alone.
|A screen shot of the onboard
nautical video display showing Oosterdam leaving Hawaii,
then turning to go back, then turning to continue our trip
back home, then turning again to evacuate sick passengers.
Finally, underway (arrow) and returning to San Diego, the
port of disembarkation.
We were on our way back from a great time seeing the Hawaiian
islands, and we had four more days at sea before hitting San Diego
and disembarking. At about 10am on Monday, Oct 31, 2011, the
Oosterdam made a U-turn. We noticed this only because we were
walking past one of the ship’s nautical video displays outside one
of the public rooms while on our way to an enrichment lecture. About
an hour later, Captain Johannes Baijens came on the ship’s public
address system and announced that a passenger was critically ill and
needed to be taken back to the big island of Hawaii at Hilo and a
hospital there. This was, at that time, about twelve hours to our
west, the ship having left its last port of call at Maui the
afternoon before. The ship had to be within one hundred miles for a
helicopter to do a medical evacuation. Then, about an hour later,
the Captain made another announcement that the passenger was
determined to be in good enough condition to continue in the ship’s
sick bay/hospital until we reached our next port, which would have
been a brief stop in Ensenada, Mexico before going back to San
Diego, where we originally embarked. Good news for everybody. We
were literally back on course and back on schedule, and the
passenger was apparently not critical, or maybe even much better
than originally thought.
Then, at about 10pm that evening, after everyone had settled in
after dinner, the Captain once again made an announcement that the
sick passenger would indeed need to be evacuated after all. We would
be turning around once again and would proceed to Hilo where the
Coast Guard would coordinate a helicopter transfer of the sick
passenger. We travelled back to Hawaii overnight, wondering how much
off schedule we would be and hoping for a good outcome for the sick
9am the next morning, Tuesday, Nov 1, 2011, two more passengers had
become ill enough that they also needed to be evacuated to shore.
The upper forward decks were cleared of passengers, as was the
inside forward Crow’s Nest and Explorers Internet Cafe. Everyone was
asked not to take flash photos so as not to disturb the rescue
workers. A Coast Guard plane circled the ship coordinating with the
Captain, who was also on the phone with Holland America Line in
Seattle, Washington. Two Coast Guard rescue helicopters arrived on
the scene shortly, lowering “cradles” for passenger transport. A
Coast Guard rescuer was lowered to assist with loading and
airlifting. This was done twice and the first chopper took off
toward Hilo, to return one more time about ninety minutes later for
the third sick passenger. Meanwhile, the sea plane continued to
circle, continued to coordinate with our ship. All went well, and we
were underway again about thirty minutes after the final helicopter
left the area with the last of the three sick passengers. Of course,
this threw a huge monkey wrench into everyone’s plans to get back
home again. The cruise line would also have to delay the start of
the Oosterdam’s next cruise, a Mexican Riviera trip to Puerto
Vallerta and Cabo San Lucas. This has to be a major disruption for
so many people; still everyone’s thoughts were with those three sick
passengers and their families and friends left back here onboard the
Once underway, another announcement from Captain Baijens about
rescheduling flights and further port arrival information was given.
Everything seemed to have been arranged seamlessly by HAL.
Passengers who had booked flights through the cruise line would be
rebooked by the front desk, and they would be receiving new
documents in their cabins shortly. Those who booked flights
independently (like us) could use free internet onboard and also
free phone calls until Thursday Nov 4 to make alternate flight
plans. This worked out well for most.
For the remainder of the trip, the Captain, during his mid-morning
briefing, gave the ship an update from Hilo as to the sick
passengers’ conditions. All were doing well, and their friends and
families would be flying back to them soon, as soon as we hit land
again. As the identities of the family members left behind on board
became known, we all began to check with them if we met on deck. How
were their loved ones in the hospital doing? What was the word from
We later found out that Oosterdam’s onboard staff and crew donated
seven pints of blood for one of the stricken passengers. A total of
twelve vacationers were hospitalized on our trip, either taken by
helicopter that morning back to Hawaii or taken off the ship at one
of the four islands in the state of Hawaii that we visited.
Holland America has a reputation for carrying a lot of older
passengers on their ships and taking very good care of them, too.
This was a scheduled two week cruise, it started after school had
begun for the year (there were only three kids onboard, all pre-schoolers);
these are all earmarks of a cruise with older travelers. Still,
there seemed to be a LOT of chronically sick, very much older folks
on our ship with us, even more so than an average HAL cruise,
according to the Captain. People with wheelchairs, walkers,
scooters, canes, oxygen, people who moved very slowly and sometimes
looked very much out of touch with their surroundings and
whereabouts that they might have been dangerous to themselves and
As a result of this evacuation event, many of us out on deck the
next few days were talking about all of this. We talked with
families onboard who had taken elderly relatives to Hawaii as a
“final wish” or had family members in their nineties who had to see
the ship’s doctor at least once during our trip or even go to one of
the land-based hospitals on their own while in Hawaii. We had a
discussion about any potentially serious marine emergency and how
the crew could evacuate the ship quickly and safely with so many
handicapped passengers onboard. We also wondered if it was a good
idea to have a ship full of people who were so physically needy.
Based on the way Holland America handled all of this on our trip,
I’m sure they have it all worked out, and they are ready to go with
emergency plans if need be.
Don’t get me wrong. Although this was a cruise with very much older
and apparently physically delicate people onboard, something like
this could happen to any one of the healthiest among us on any other
cruise line any place in the world. Broken bones, a burst appendix,
an acute kidney stone attack, heart attack—the
list goes on—of
things that happen fast and without warning. It’s bad enough to be
sick or injured at any time without having to worry about the costs of
care away from home, out of the country or at sea.
So I leave you with three important words: Buy trip insurance!
Photos: Oosterdam bow © Linda Coffman; Oosterdam video display &
evacuation courtesy of Karen Segboer
Holland America Line
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