Scott and Dona Ferguson thought a nice trip through the South Pacific on a cruise ship would be a great way to celebrate their recent retirements and their return home to Maine.

But the Winthrop couple, thanks to the spread of the coronavirus, ended up stranded at sea, with the ship and its 840 passengers unable to find a port willing to let them come ashore, even though no one onboard their cruise ship, the Maasdam of Holland America, has shown symptoms of the virus.

Scott Ferguson Photo submitted by Scott and Dona Ferguson

After the ship was turned away at three different ports the couple and other passengers stuck on board had planned to disembark the ship Friday in Honolulu, Hawaii, then head for the airport there to catch a flight back home to Maine. However Thursday night they learned the governor of Hawaii refused to allow any cruise ship passengers to get off in the state.

Scott Ferguson said Thursday night the cruise company was working with the Centers for Disease Control, and even Vice President Mike Pence, to allow the passengers off the ship to go directly to the airport, but no agreement was reached.

They learned Friday passengers would not be allowed off the ship in Hawaii. So their time at sea will continue.

“Honolulu has decided to NOT allow us to get off,” Scott Ferguson said by email Friday, expressing disappointment that they would not be let off even in the U.S. state of Hawaii. “(It) now seems to be a hostage situation — at least (it) feels like it. There is no one sick on the ship.”

He said it looked like the ship would be loaded with fuel and food and then head for San Diego, California.

A statement from the Hawaii Department of Transportation said the Maasdam and another ship would be allowed to dock to refuel and resupply, but passengers would not be allowed off.

Dona Ferguson Photo submitted by Scott and Dona Ferguson

“The health and safety of all people in Hawaii is always at the forefront of operational decisions,” Hawaii Department of Transportation Director Jade Butay said in the statement.”Presently, all state resources are focused and directed towards containing the spread of COVID-19. Allowing more than 2,500 passengers and crew to disembark will further strain these resources. HDOT and the State are allowing the ships to dock at Honolulu Harbor so they may refuel and restock. Neither ship had originally planned to make Hawaii its final port and both will carry on to mainland destinations, where more resources can be marshalled to handle the passengers and crew properly.”

Ferguson said they all understand the need to protect the state’s residents, but said the ship’s captain reiterated at a meeting Thursday no one onboard has symptoms of the virus.

He said the captain and crew of the Maasdam, “have been fantastic in keeping us safe, sound and well fed,” but the couple is ready to come home. They have not been confined to their cabins and some entertainment and activities have taken place on the ship.

“The mood onboard appears upbeat but we all want to get home to our families,” Scott Ferguson said Tuesday, before they’d learned they wouldn’t be able to disembark in Hawaii.

They boarded the ship March 1, in Auckland, New Zealand, for what was supposed to be a 15-day South Pacific cruise. The couple said they were aware of the spread of the coronavirus but were optimistic even though they realized the trip was a bit of a gamble. They said all passengers were screened for the virus when they boarded. And the couple packed their medical books with them for the trip.

Dona, 66, retired as a nursing professor at Columbus State University in Georgia and Scott, 67, retired from the United Way after 30 years, the last 12 in Columbus, Georgia, as president and chief executive officer. The couple, upon their retirement, bought a house in Winthrop. Dona grew up in Leeds and Scott in Windham.

Once the ship was at sea the port of Tonga closed to cruise ships, as did Tahiti. Then, March 13 Holland America announced it was ending all cruises. Some passengers then got off at Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, but the Fergusons chose to stay on until a planned stop in Hilo, Hawaii, where they thought they’d be able to get off the ship and catch a flight home. However after they’d arranged flights Hilo closed as well, so the ship instead was to land in Honolulu where the Fergusons again arranged for flights home only to learn they wouldn’t be let off the ship there, either.

While on board they’ve played games and talked with other passengers, eaten well, and listened, one night, as a passenger gave a talk on astrology. They said they’ve been able to maintain relatively good spirits, in part because they “try to be travelers not tourists, that embrace the adventures as they come.”

The couple aren’t sure whether the cost of the trip will be refunded but said the company had offered to at least review airfare expenses to get home.

So, will the couple ever decide to go on a cruise again?

“Sure at some point,” they’ll go on another cruise, Scott said by email. “But this summer only on Maranacook Lake.”

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