It's about 5:30 in the evening, you're napping on the NOORDAM ( a 5-star cruise ship of Holland America) after a long walking tour through Toaramina, a hill top town in Southern Italy. An hour later you are being thrown off the ... Read More
It's about 5:30 in the evening, you're napping on the NOORDAM ( a 5-star cruise ship of Holland America) after a long walking tour through Toaramina, a hill top town in Southern Italy. An hour later you are being thrown off the ship, into the Mediterranean. It is dark and you are being sent from the Noordam, asked to jump from a hole in the bowels of the ship, through the waves, onto a small boat run by 3 Italian men with whom you cannot communicate one word (they don't speak English and you don't speak Italian). You are at sea an hour in the small boat before you arrive in a remote section of Calabria. Again no one speaks English. You don't know where you are or where you are being taken. Think this could never happen? NO. A bad dream? NO. It happened to us, just a couple weeks ago.
Our cruise was billed as a twenty (20) day Mediterranean Adventure, sailing from Civitavecchia, Italy, on September 14, 2008, on the m.s. NOORDAM. We were thrown into the Mediterranean Sea by Holland America officers about 7p.m., September 26, 2008. We had sailed about an hour out of Sicily and were cruising the straights of Messina toward Turkey.
The story starts as my husband Barry had a cold. The runny nose made our walking tour of Touramina Sicily that day a little uncomfortable. Barry has high blood pressure and the ship's store did not have any over the counter cold pills he could take, so he went to the ship's doctor for something to stop a runny nose. The doctor gave him an "inhaler" that was much too strong. He had a severe allergic reaction. The nurse gave him the anti-dote and in about 2 minutes he was fine. The entire incident played out in about 15 minutes. That's when the nightmare began.
The ship's doctor panicked when he realized he'd given Barry the wrong medicine. He called the bridge and apparently told them there was an emergency and asked that the ship be stopped. I know this because the Captain made a PA announcement to that effect to all the passengers. We were ordered to pack the cabin and get off the ship. Even though it was clear to at least 1 nurse as well as us that Barry was fine now, the doctor refused to call the Captain and admit he'd made a mistake.
The ship's officers told me we were going to Calabria. I know that very little English is spoken in that state of Italy, so I pleaded with the ship's officers to get us someone to meet us on shore who spoke English. It was a Friday evening and the ship's officers claimed they couldn't reach anyone on shore to care for us. Instead they provided me some telephone numbers of persons they said were ship's agents in Italy.
Several ships' officers took us down to the bowels of the ship where there was a rubber Avon-type boat about 20 feet long. A half dozen ship's officers circled around us as the crew tried to lash this rubber boat to the ship. We could all see that the rubber boat had no medical equipment, no oxygen, no medical personnel, and no where to sit. We begged not to be cast off on this rubber boat, but Holland America had decided. They pushed us off, along with all of our luggage, on to this Avon with 3 Italians who spoke not a word of English.
Thereafter, we tossed around the Mediterranean for about an hour in the dark until finally being taken to a desolate area in rural Calabria. It is a good thing Barry was not in "repertory distress" as the ship's doctor claimed, because in this rubber boat he probably would have died. Once we reached land, both Barry and I had to climb a 25 foot seawall from the Avon, by climbing a pipe ladder placed over the stern, onto the flying bridge of second boat, and another pipe ladder up to the top of the seawall. There was no one there to meet us from the ship or any of its agents.
There was no English speaking person to see to our care and be able to translate if needed. Luggage and Barry and I were loaded on to a truck and a small ambulance. We were taken to what appeared to be a medical clinic. The care apparatus at this clinic was truly third world verses the state of the art equipment that was available on the ship.
At the clinic was one person, we knew him only as Tony, who could speak some English. He acted as a translator for us with the medical clinic personnel. The location we were taken was in rural Calabria. Barry was examined by personnel of the clinic and advised that he was "perfectly okay". After the clinic examined him and said he needed no further treatment or examination.
We had no where to stay the night. There were no hotels in this rural area. We were then able to arrange through "Tony" to get his friend with a large vehicle, who operated it as a bus locally, to take us to the main town and find us a hotel. We needed a large vehicle because of all of our luggage. It seemed all of the vehicles owned by people at this clinic were motor scooters, motorcycles, or small two seater vehicles. We drove in the dark with a stranger who spoke no English. We drove through very "bad looking" neighborhoods, broken glass in windows, laundry lines hanging out, long, dirty alleys.
Before going ashore in several Italian ports, we were told by the ship's tour directors to watch out for thieves and pick pockets because Italy has a severe crime problem. If the people we stumbled upon at that clinic in desolate, rural Calabria that night had not been honest we would have been in serious danger. They knew we were "rich" Americans. We had been on a very fancy cruise ship. They also knew that all of our cash, all of our valuables, all of our jewelry was on our person. It surely wasn't on the ship. The ship had sailed. We were totally vulnerable! No one would even have reported us missing for 10 more days because the cruise wasn't scheduled to end until October 4. The stranger we found ,"Tony" was very helpful. He tried several times that night to reach Holland America port agents but got nothing but answering machines or was told we were given the wrong number. These were the numbers given to us by Holland America officers, when we were forced off the ship. Eventually, we traveled 40-60 miles to Reggio, Calabria. We were taken to a nice hotel in Reggio selected by Tony- Montesano Hotel.
We spent the next day on the telephone with the cruise line, and its port agents. These were the port agents we were promised would meet us when we got to shore on the Avon, after being thrown off the ship. The nearest port agent was in Sicily. He told me he did not have any means or any intention to travel across the Straights of Messina, into Calabria, and then some 40-50 miles south to meet us when we arrived in Calabria. He was never directed by the ship to meet us. He had nothing but excuses. We also spoke to Holland America's port agent (the apparent superior) who is located in Genoa, Italy. That is several hundred miles from the place where we landed. Again, she had no ability or intent to send anyone to meet us.
There was absolutely no plan by anyone on Holland America to assure our safety, or any of our care once we reached shore. This is particularly distressing in Calabria, because that is a province well known for speaking no English. In addition, these persons were of absolutely no help in assisting us to get home from Reggio, Calabria. After a frustrating series of dozens of telephone calls, and faxes, in an attempt to secure some assistance from Holland America, we "gave up", and called Alitalia Airlines, and Delta Airlines, rescheduled our own flights, and flew home at our own expense.
The expense incurred in this fiasco was many thousands of dollars in hotel bills, meals, cabs, airline tickets and airline penalty for changing the departure date. Fortunately we had an American Express card and cash that enabled us to get home. A day or so later we received a call at home from some official from Holland America. Once Holland America ascertained that we were home(not dead) the call ended. We haven't heard a word from them since. Read Less