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Covid-19: When a boat trip for this UAE resident turned into 197 days of quarantine at sea

Dubai - What started as a five-week boat trip from Australia led to a gruelling stay in the waters of Phuket.

By Abdul Karim Hanif

Published: Fri 22 Jan 2021, 6:39 PM

UAE resident William Pardoe spent 197 days in quarantine — not in a facility or his flat, but onboard a catamaran docked at a marina in Thailand. What started as a five-week boat trip from Australia led to a gruelling stay in the waters of Phuket.

As the Covid-19 pandemic painted a gloomy picture onshore due to mobility restrictions, the world offshore had its own challenges. Border closures stranded over 400,000 seafarers in what was described by the International Maritime Organisation as a ‘deep crew change crisis’.

Among those stuck at sea was William, a 29-year-old British national who spent a six-month quarantine on a 62ft catamaran along with Captain Sam McCracken, First Mate Neil Antrum and his friend Petra Srubarova.

William and the crew had set off from Port Douglas in Australia on April 26, 2020, towards Phuket, which would have taken them five weeks.

“My visa to stay in Australia was expiring and while the world was gradually shutting down, I thought of going on a five-week boat trip with this group of seafarers heading towards Thailand. That will give the world enough time to get over the virus,” said William.

As per the initial plan, the boat would cover the 8,000km journey from Australia to Thailand for its repairs, before being sold off to its new owners in Greece.

Attracted by the offer of $200 a week as stipend, William and his friend Petra joined crewmen Sam and Neil on the journey.

Their hopes of the epidemic subsiding were dashed, with border closures extended for much longer than just five weeks.

With the Thai borders closed, the crew made a week-long stop in Langkawi, Malaysia, before sailing over to the coastal town on May 30, 2020. Upon their arrival, Thai authorities refused to process their entry.

William described this episode as a “bureaucratic abyss”.“We couldn’t leave the country as we were not allowed to enter in the first place and this is how our six-month-long quarantine began.”

On August 11, 2020, Thailand initiated entry of seafarers under the ‘crew change’ policy. However, the challenge the crew faced was that their catamaran wasn’t classified as a commercial vessel.

“The issue was that we were a small boat. Commercial crew according to their red tape was for the big tankers,” said William.

Their only glimmer of hope was that the world would soon get rid of the pandemic, leading to the borders being opened for international tourists, for Will and the crew to make their way to the airports and fly home.

The crew had stored enough food for two months, after which they had to rely on their weekly stipend to buy their supplies. Most of the meals were prepared on board the catamaran, with ingredients delivered by the local supermarkets.

Describing the feeling as being “trapped in your apartment with nowhere to go”, William said the crew kept themselves sane through reading books, exercising, organising chores around the boat and also getting involved with some artwork.

“We kept saying that we will be free after two weeks and it is only a matter of time from here on. Weeks became months and we were stuck in the same situation,” William added.

Frustrated by their situation, William and Petra decided to take matters into their own hands. On November 1, 2020, they managed to join another boat that was setting sail from Phuket.

As soon as the crew arrived in Singapore, they were handed over a one-day visa, after which William managed to get on a flight to Istanbul to do a Covid-19 test, prior to his arrival back in Dubai.

After a long ordeal of 197 days, William finally returned to Dubai where his parents live on November 12, 2020.

Relieved by the end of the episode, William still feels uneasy thinking about it all. Captain Sam and First Mate Neil remain stranded in Thailand, and William has only one message for them: “Hang in there, guys, this will all be over soon.”


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