Wednesday 7 September 2022

Cabin Fever by Michael Smith & Jonathan Franklin @SmithMarkets @FranklinBlog #CabinFever @Octopus_Books #BookReview


In early 2020, the world was on edge. An ominous virus was spreading and no one knew what the coming weeks would bring. Far from the hotspots, the cruise ship Zaandam was preparing to sail from Buenos Aires loaded with 1,200 passengers - British, American, Australian, European and South American tourists, plus 600 crew. Most passengers were over the age of 65.

There was concern about the virus in the news but that was oceans away. Escaping to sea at the ends of the earth for a few weeks seemed like it might be a good option. The cruise line had said the voyage would go ahead as scheduled and it would be safe.

Within days, people aboard the Zaandam began to fall sick. The world's ports shut down. Zaandam became a top story on the news and was denied safe harbour everywhere. With only two doctors aboard and few medical supplies to test for or treat Covid-19, and with dwindling food and water, the ship wandered the oceans on an unthinkable journey.

Cabin Fever is a riveting narrative thriller, taking readers behind the scenes of the ship's complex workings, and below decks into the personal lives of passengers and crew who were caught unprepared for the deadly ordeal that lay ahead. It is a story layered with moments of peril, perseverance and kindness. A remarkable tale that is filled with individual acts of heroism and the struggles and the tragedies of the crew and passengers.

Cabin Fever by Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin was published in hardback on 14 July 2022 by Endeavour / Octopus. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I have never been on a cruise, although I am fascinated by the thought of it. I did book a cruise in late 2018, to take place in 2020. I cancelled the cruise for various reasons, and of course, it didn't happen anyway due to the COVID pandemic. One day I will book another. There is so much to research; which line, which itinerary, what's included etc etc. 

I read this book with a growing sense of horror. It is incredibly well written, and if one didn't know that it was a true story, you'd really think you were reading a work of fiction. The narrative structure works so well. The authors have taken various passengers and crew, and followed their journey, and what a bumpy, choppy, sometimes heartbreaking journey that was. 

Holland America Cruise ship MV Zaandam was due to sail from Buenos Aires in early March 2020 with around 1800 people on board. 1200 passengers from all over the world, most of them aged over 65, and 600 crew. Despite the news of a worrying virus that had started in China, Holland America decided that the ship would sail. Any passenger who didn't want to go would lose their money. Some of these passengers had saved for years for this cruise of a lifetime and they boarded, with no health checks at all. The ship's medical centre had no extra capacity, there were no contingency plans made. The cruise line decided that they were well away from China and all would be well. 

Of course it wasn't. We all know that now and the authors have detailed exactly what happened on board. The fact that the crew were told not to wear masks because that may frighten the passengers, the crew who worked every hour available as their colleagues lay dying around them. Those crew who gave all to a cruise line that treated them so badly. Day in, day out, these amazing people carried on washing bed linen and preparing meals as the horror unfolded. 

It's a desperately sad read, it's also horrific and anger inducing, as the ship tries and fails to dock in so many ports. As people get sicker and sicker, as they die and as they do eventually get home. Some of them arrive home in coffins, some are now widowed. It is an incredible story, and I only wish that it were fiction. 

Michael Smith is an award-winning investigative reporter at Bloomberg Businessweek. His stories document financial crimes, the business of narcotics and human trafficking, and environmental and labour abuses in corporate supply chains. Smith has won dozens of awards over his 30-year career, including the prestigious George Polk, Maria Moors Cabot, Robert F. Kennedy and Overseas Press Club prizes. Recently, he has reported extensively on the Covid outbreaks on cruise ships. He is based in Miami. Cabin Fever is his first book. Twitter: @SmithMarkets.

Jonathan Franklin is an award-winning public speaker, investigative journalist and author. Franklin's previous books include A Wild Idea, 438 Days: An extraordinary story of survival at sea (now under development as a major motion picture) and The 33, the inside account of the dramatic Chilean mining rescue and a US bestseller. A native of New Hampshire, he splits his time between Portland, Maine and Punta de Lobos, Chile where he lives with his wife and daughters. Twitter: @FranklinBlog.

No comments:

Post a Comment