Coronavirus scare leaves San Diego couple stuck at sea on cruise ship


Benjamin Capon and Nadine Bialostozky, Torrey Pines High School sweethearts who grew up in Carmel Valley, have been living in Israel for the last six years and boarded Holland America’s Westerdam on Feb. 1 to start a long journey home.

With their wedding in five weeks, the couple has found that the global coronavirus outbreak has turned what was expected to be a relaxing prelude to starting a life together into a confusing float in the South China Sea. After an initial port call scheduled for Manila on Feb. 3 was canceled due to coronavirus concerns, the ship was denied entry to Keelun and Kaohsiung ports in Taiwan, Capon said in an email dated Thursday.

What follows are comments from Capon aboard the Westerdam:

“The two of us are actually in really high spirits.

“Cruises are basically floating resorts so we are still enjoying ourselves. The same cannot be said for everyone on board though. There is a lot of grumbling about the goings on of the ship, as well as rumors of where we are heading next. Last night they had an open bar, which seemed to quiet the crowds for a brief spell, only for the captain to release another statement declaring we would not stop in Ishigaki, our first port in Japan.


“This morning the captain made the announcement that Japan has denied us entry to all ports for the remainder of our trip and the cruise has been canceled, as well as the following two-week cruise, which my fiancee and I were also supposed to be on. Apparently Holland America is in contact with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Navy and the Dutch government to decide what to do next. At this moment we are still sailing in an eastward direction, but the passengers aren’t sure why. We have heard rumors that we will be docking in either Hawaii or Alaska, where we will not be placed under quarantine for the necessary two weeks because the ship itself is basically under self-quarantine. Officially, the destination has not been determined.

“The feeling on board about skipping each port is justifiable frustration. Each night before the expected stop the captain makes an announcement over the speakers that he regrets to inform us the Filipino/Taiwanese/South Korean/Japanese authorities have decided to deny our entry the following day.

“Initially we were supposed to complete our cruise in Shanghai, which was then switched to Tokyo, so everyone was requested to alter their travel plans to fly home from there. Holland America has only offered $250 of compensation for flight changes. At this moment, unsure of where we are headed, we are being advised to change flight plans again, but we don’t know where we are headed! It’s a bit odd they would say this. Also, upon request, passengers can receive a voucher for two hours worth of free WiFi.

“At every table are seated couples and families speculating the next move. The feeling of anxiety in the room is palpable. People do not seem to be holed up in their rooms yet, but with the news online about a potential case of the virus on board from the Daily Mail and other news outlets, surely nerves will be rattled and folks will retreat to their staterooms. To be clear, the cruise has not definitely said one of the passengers is infected with the virus, but yesterday we asked a nurse what was happening in the sick bay, to which she sort of evaded the question but did note there was a lot of activity. Also, as a side note, very few people are wearing masks. If the cruise is offering complimentary masks to guests, we aren’t aware of it (we have our own).

“To tell you a little bit about us, we are currently in transit back to San Diego. We have been living in Israel for the past six years and slowly making our way home. We both grew up in Carmel Valley (Torrey Pines graduates and high school sweethearts)! ... My fiancée imports arts and crafts supplies from China to Mexico. We were supposed to go to China for two weeks to visit factories, but those plans were canceled. I am a smal-business owner. Both of us are having trouble connecting to our business partners and colleagues without the internet we would be able to access on the expected port stops since we aren’t stopping!”

Sisson writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.