When James and Gowri Anglin boarded the Costa Luminosa cruise ship last month in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, they had expected to spend several weeks relaxing on beaches in the Caribbean and Europe as part of a transatlantic holiday.
By the end of their trip, the British couple would be locked away under quarantine in a hotel room in Rome and referring to their cruise as the ‘COVID Death Ship’.
From the time they boarded the vessel on 5 March to when they reached Rome on 23 March, two former passengers from the ship – a 68-year old Italian man who left the ship in Grand Cayman and a 68-year-old Italian woman who disembarked in Puerto Rico – had already been confirmed dead from coronavirus complications. Later that week, Italian press would report two more deaths from the ship: a 73-year-old Dutch citizen and an 84-year-old Israeli man, who were both in Italy.
By the ship’s final stop in Savona, Italy, it had become clear that hundreds of passengers – in large part retired people in their 60s and 70s – had been exposed to coronavirus aboard the vessel, operated by Carnival’s Costa Crociere. Dozens had already tested positive and reports of illness in evacuated passengers were growing by the day.
Although the ship had already left a sick passenger in Cayman on 29 Feb., five days before the Anglins boarded, there was no indication of trouble when they set sail from Florida. Even after two additional passengers were left behind in Puerto Rico on 8 March, the Anglins say travellers were left in the dark.
“Before we left Puerto Rico, we heard there was a patient sent to hospital because she got sick. That’s all we heard,” said Gowri Anglin, 68.
James Anglin, 62, said passengers only began to suspect there was an issue a day later when the ship neared its next stop, Antigua.
“The first indication that we were in trouble was when Antigua refused to let us stop. Within about 40 minutes of docking in Antigua, they refused,” James Anglin said.
“That was just the beginning of the nightmare.”
The captain then redirected the ship to Tenerife, Canary Islands, nearly 3,000 miles and a week’s journey away.
During the transatlantic crossing, the Anglins said passengers continued to mingle openly and enjoy the ship’s facilities.
Before reaching the Canary Islands, however, James Anglin said the tone changed. Passengers were instructed to remain in their cabins and mandatory daily temperature checks were implemented. It was no longer avoidable that coronavirus was now widespread across the ship.
On 14 March, the day before reaching Tenerife, Costa distributed a statement to passengers.
“We wish to inform you that we have just been informed that the guest who disembarked on March 8 in Puerto Rico for medical reasons and her husband in Puerto Rico have been found positive for the COVID-19 virus and are both hospitalised,” it read.
More sick people were unloaded in Tenerife and the remaining passengers were obliged to remain isolated until another port would accept them. Between Tenerife and Marseille, France, passengers received additional communication from Costa, explaining that the ship had been denied landing in Spain. As consolation, passengers were offered credit for another free cruise, to be used within the next 12 months.
The Anglins and around a dozen other British passengers, who remain connected over WhatsApp, were discharged at the ship’s final stop in Savona, Italy. Just days before, 36 passengers and crew who had been evacuated in Marseille had tested positive for the virus. Among the remaining 718 passengers and 868 crew still aboard the ship at the time, it was clear many more were also ill.
“We didn’t become completely aware of the fact that there were sort of 70 to 80 cases of the coronavirus until the next day in Savona. That’s when it hit all the media. That’s when they could no longer hide it,” James Anglin said. “That came as a shock to both my wife and I that we had been on a ship with so many cases.”
From Savona, the Anglins and other British passengers were shuttled overnight to a designated quarantine hotel in Rome. En route, James Anglin said several passengers were actively ill.
“There was no resuscitation equipment on the bus. There were people vomiting, there were people sick, people with breathing difficulties,” he told the Cayman Compass from the hotel last week.
“Even since we’ve arrived in the quarantine centre … there’s no medical attention. There’s no Costa doctors. In fact, we haven’t been able to get through to a Costa representative since we arrived.”
At the quarantine hotel, James Anglin, who is a doctor, said he was forced to step in and care for fellow passengers himself. With no access to personal protective equipment, such as gloves or face masks, the measures put him at substantial risk.
“Unfortunately, today [26 March], I had to organise through the embassy, not through Costa, the admission of an elderly gentleman with diabetes, who I don’t think had COVID,” he said.
Frustrated with the lack of medical care provided, the British passengers came together and sent out a press release to bring attention to their experience with Costa.
“The local mayor has already stated publicly that we are not wanted here, putting pressure on local resources. The authorities involved in the loss of liberty have not complied with their own emergency statutes, forcing the pensioners to request life-saving supplies of soap, disinfectant and food from the British Embassy staff, who have managed to get these supplies delivered urgently,” the 26 March press release read.
“We just want to get medical treatment, better food, better accommodation and to get home.”
The Anglins and other British passengers have since been released and are now settling back into their homes in the UK, where they are completing a second quarantine period.
“We were very hurriedly transported back to London on 29 March,” Gowri Anglin said from the couple’s home in the Isle of Man. “We were taken by a coach from our hotel in Rome straight to the aircraft standing on the tarmac.”
There they joined passengers from Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, also being transported home.
Meanwhile, on a Costa Luminosa Facebook group for former passengers, reports of illness and loss continue to come in, as those affected share their condolences and attempt to count the dead.