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‘We just want to go home’ – Suffolk couple stranded on cruise ship where four people have died

PUBLISHED: 15:57 29 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:40 29 March 2020

David and Cheryl Deeks, from Mendlesham, are stranded on the coronavirus-stricken ship near Panama, where four passengers have sadly died. Picture: CHERYL DEEKS

David and Cheryl Deeks, from Mendlesham, are stranded on the coronavirus-stricken ship near Panama, where four passengers have sadly died. Picture: CHERYL DEEKS

CHERYL DEEKS

A couple from Mendlesham are among more than 200 British nationals who have been confined to their cabins for almost a week on a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship where four people have died.

David and Cheryl Deeks, from Mendlesham, are stranded on the coronavirus-stricken ship near Panama, where four passengers have sadly died. Picture: CHERYL DEEKSDavid and Cheryl Deeks, from Mendlesham, are stranded on the coronavirus-stricken ship near Panama, where four passengers have sadly died. Picture: CHERYL DEEKS

Cheryl and David Deeks have been stranded in their cabins on board the MS Zaandam ship since last Sunday, March 22, when the luxury cruise liner went into complete lockdown due to the spread of Covid-19.

Cheryl, who celebrated her 66th birthday whilst on board the cruise on March 13, said she “just wants to get home to her family”.

She said: “It’s difficult to get hold of anyone from the ship to find out what is going on so we are left in the dark a little.

“It’s very scary and quite mentally draining being trapped in here. I can’t get to grips with the times, I lose track of the days and all we have is a small window.”

Cheryl is keeping positive and finding a focus by ensuring she does 10,000 steps a day – which is proving difficult in her small cabin where she can only do 12 steps from one side to the other.

“We are so tired, but it could be a lot worse. We’ve got each other and our health and that’s the main thing.”

Mrs Deeks added that it is the “not knowing” which is getting her down and says the whole pandemic is a real shock.

Prior to the lockdown, the Deeks were unaware of how bad the situation had become and it escalated very quickly on board.

Cheryl and David left the UK on March 2 – when the coronavirus situation was very different – before spending a couple of days in Rio and Buenos Aires, where the ship departed on March 7.

David and Cheryl set off on their holiday with three other friends from Suffolk, Cheryl’s sister Wendy Birchley, from Waldringfield, Toni Haslam from Stowmarket and Sara Fletcher from Shotley – at that time coronavirus deaths had only been recorded in China, Iran, Italy and France.

It had always been Cheryl’s dream to go to the Falkland Islands, but now all she wants is to get home to her family.

The ship has now been at sea since March 14 when it was refused permission to dock in Chile, where the cruise was due to end in San Antonio on March 21.

Operator Holland America Line said more than 130 people have reported flu-like symptoms on board, while four “older guests” are confirmed to have died - although their cause of death has not yet been given.

Mrs Deeks said coronavirus testing kits were brought onto the ship on Friday, but only for those passengers and crew members showing symptoms.

The ship, which was refused entry to a series of ports as the world responds to the Covid-19 pandemic, had attempted the journey to Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

But authorities in Panama said no vessel with confirmed cases could travel through the Panama Canal.

Yesterday, Panama’s government announced they would grant those on board “humanitarian aid” and allow the ship to pass through the waterway.

Holland America Line began transferring healthy passengers to a sister ship docked nearby, the Rotterdam, which has been providing the Zaandam with medical supplies and personnel.

A Norfolk couple are also stranded on board.

The five Suffolk passengers – who are all of good health – have been transferred to the Rotterdam ship, but it is not yet known whether the ship will also be allowed to pass through the Panama Canal.

Cheryl and David are both members of the Waveney Bird Club, who have also expressed their concern at the situation the couple are now in.

Steve Piotrowski, president of the club, said: “We are all extremely worried for Cheryl and David who are on a lifetime birdwatching cruise to South America.

“They were celebrating their retirement and now find themselves marooned in the Pacific Ocean on a ship with Covid-19 cases.

“They are thankfully in good health themselves, but do not know how and when they will get home! Club members were anxious and are hoping and praying that they get back safely and very soon.”

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are doing all we can to help British people on board the Zaandam cruise ship.

“Our staff are in close contact with the cruise operator and the authorities in the region to ensure British people can get home safely.”

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