Holland America cruise ship to house displaced Ukrainians


(CNN) — The travel industry has pitched in to help house some of the millions of people who have fled conflict in Ukraine over the past six weeks, with hotels and vacation home owners across Europe offering rooms to those in need.

Now a cruise liner has also opened its doors to the refugees. Holland America Line’s Volendam, a 237-meter long, 10-deck cruise ship docked in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, has been recruited to provide temporary refuge for up to 1,500 Ukrainians.

“Our crew sees it as a true honor to make Volendam a comfortable and caring environment for families who have been through so much,” the ship’s captain, Ryan Whitaker, told CNN Travel.

Temporary accommodation

Volendam will be docked in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, for three months.

Volendam will be docked in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, for three months.

Courtesy Holland America Line

The Dutch government, which has pledged to house up to 50,000 displaced Ukrainians, contacted Holland America in late March to inquire about chartering a ship as temporary accommodation.

Volendam had yet to re-enter service following the Covid-19 pandemic, but the ship was fully crewed in preparation for a scheduled return to passenger sailings in May.

Sibrand Hassing, Holland America’s European fleet operations director told CNN Travel the cruise line was keen to help, as it was in a position to “accommodate the immediate need for food and housing.”

A spokesperson for the city of Rotterdam said there is a “major housing shortage” in the city, meaning individual housing cannot currently be offered to displaced Ukrainians.

“Some refugees were staying in hotels, but this was not a long-term solution,” said the spokesperson. “That’s why we decided to accommodate a number of these refugees on this ship for the months to come.”

On April 5, 100 Ukrainians boarded Volendam, with more people set to board in the coming days.

Ukrainians staying on Volendam will be provided with three hot meals a day, and will also have use of the ship’s various facilities — including housekeeping services, Wi-Fi and a fitness center.

“Our onboard team is known for its service and hospitality and we are ready to welcome our new guests as we would welcome guests into our own homes,” said captain Ryan Whitaker.

Volendam will remain docked at Merwehaven, a cargo port on Rotterdam’s River Maas, for the entirety of the three-month charter. Those on board can disembark whenever they wish, including to attend school.

The Rotterdam spokesperson said city officials are also “working hard to provide education for every Ukrainian child that has taken refuge in Rotterdam.”

“We expect to reach this goal somewhere in the next couple of weeks,” said the spokesperson. “This will not take place on board of this ship, but on a location somewhere in Rotterdam.”

Medical and social care will also be arranged for the Ukrainians via local social organizations, including the Salvation Army.

Those on board will be encouraged to wear mask, in accordance with the Dutch Covid-19 regulations. The Rotterdam city spokesperson also said the Ukrainians will get a general health check when they board, with anyone experiencing Covid-like symptoms getting tested. Vaccinations will also be available. Holland America said its crew will follow their usual Covid regulations.

Volendam’s upcoming cruises have been canceled, with would-be travelers provided with alternative options. Volendam is set to return to regular service in July. Forthcoming itineraries include midnight sun voyages up to the Arctic Circle and tours of northern European capitals, with tickets costing from about $2,400 per person for two weeks.

Top photo of Volendam courtesy Holland America Line

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