Americans stranded at Pakistan airport after cruise ship was denied entry to multiple countries over coronavirus fears

A plane full of Americans and Canadians was stranded on a tarmac at an airport in Karachi, Pakistan, for several hours on Thursday after they were turned away from multiple countries due to fears of the coronavirus, according to a family member of two of the passengers.

Kelly Chrjapin, whose parents were among those on the flight, said the plane contained more than 250 people, all of whom were American and Canadian nationals who had been traveling on the cruise ship MS Westerdam. One passenger from that boat tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month. Chrjapin said the State Department formed a task force to address the situation and that her parents were informed the plane would be flying to Amsterdam on Thursday afternoon after over seven hours in Pakistan.

The delay in Pakistan was the latest twist in an extended journey for the Westerdam passengers. Chrjapin said her parents, Victor and Karen Chrjapin, are both in their late 60s and retired. She identified her father as a former Navy officer. 

A helicopter approaches the Westerdam cruise ship

“I’m in a complete panic,” Kelly Chrjapin told Yahoo News on Thursday afternoon before she received word her parents would fly from Pakistan to the Netherlands. 

Chrjapin said she hasn’t heard from her parents since approximately 4 p.m. ET, when she said her mother texted that the pilot announced they were set to take off for Amsterdam. 

“I have not been able to get anything back from them since,” Chrjapin said. “I assume they had to turn their phones off and went wheels up.” 

RELATED: Here's an in-depth look at how the coronavirus has spread across regions in China:

18 PHOTOS
China coronavirus outbreak spreads across regions
See Gallery
China coronavirus outbreak spreads across regions
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. China's president visited the center of the global virus outbreak Tuesday as Italy began a sweeping nationwide travel ban and people worldwide braced for the possibility of recession. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)
A traveler wears a face mask as he sits in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A girl wearing a face mask sits among suitcases at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Travelers wearing face masks gather at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Staff in biohazard suits hold a metal stretcher by the in-patient department of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a novel coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Heightened precautions were being taken in China and elsewhere Tuesday as governments strove to control the outbreak of the coronavirus, which threatens to grow during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
Peatones con máscaras de protección en una zona comercial de Tokio, el jueves 16 de enero de 2020. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)
Health workers wear protective gear Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003, in Ward E3 of the Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Hong Kong's New Territories, where 24 patients were quarantined after seven of its health workers developed flu-like symptoms, although none have tested positive for SARS. According to a hospital spokesperson five nurses and two health care assistants working in the hospital's Ward E3 developed symptoms such as coughs, sore throats and fevers on Friday. Hong Kong's health chief, Dr.Yeoh Eng-kiong, said that preliminary test results showed patients' samples did not contain coronavirus that causes SARS and researchers are trying to identify the cause of the illness. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Workers monitor screens for fever signs on passengers detected by infrared detectors at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk outside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: Chinese travellers wear protective masks as they arrive to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
YICHANG, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Travelers wearing protective masks walk outside a railway station in Yichang in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. China has stepped up the measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in China.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as her mother pushes her on a suitcase to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
In this March 23, 2020 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, workers disinfect a subway train in preparation for the restoration of public transport in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province. China's health ministry says Wuhan has now gone several consecutive days without a new infection, showing the effectiveness of draconian travel restrictions that are slowly being relaxed around the country. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)
In this March 18, 2020 photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, people applaud as departing medical workers enter Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. Last month, Wuhan was overwhelmed with thousands of new cases of coronavirus each day. But in a dramatic development that underscores just how much the outbreak has pivoted toward Europe and the United States, Chinese authorities said Thursday that the city and its surrounding province had no new cases to report. The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. (Ke Hao/Xinhua via AP)
En esta fotografía del domingo 8 de marzo de 2020, difundida por la Agencia de Noticias Xinhua, trabajadores con trajes protectores limpian un hospital que se improvisó en un escenario deportivo después de que fuera cerrado oficialmente en Wuhan, provincia de Hubei, en el centro de China. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua vía AP)
Office workers wearing mask against coronavirus move past lantern decorations in a mall and office building in Beijing on Thursday, March 19, 2020. China has only just begun loosening draconian travel restrictions within the country, but has stepped-up 14-day quarantine regulations on those arriving in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere from overseas, amid expectations of a new influx of students and others returning home. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

While she believes the plane has departed from Pakistan, Chrjapin is still concerned about next steps.  

“Now the question is getting them out of Amsterdam. That’s a whole other kettle of fish,” Chrjapin said. 

The Chrjapin parent could not be immediately reached for comment. A Holland America spokesperson said the company will be releasing a statement about the planeload of passengers shortly.

A woman views the MS Westerdam cruise ship

The U.S. State Department and the Canadian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A statement from the cruise ship operator released to Yahoo News late Thursday afternoon confirmed the details of the circuitous route.“En route, the flight was unexpectedly instructed by Turkish officials to turn around midway through its journey,” the statement said. “The plane stopped for refueling at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, and then departed at 2:10 a.m. for Amsterdam, where we have received approval from the Dutch government for landing.”

Kelly Chrjapin said her parents boarded the cruise ship, which is operated by Holland America Line, in Singapore last month. According to NBT World, a government-run media outlet in Thailand, the ship had 2,257 passengers and crew members on board and left Taiwan on Feb. 4 after an earlier stop in Hong Kong. NBT reported the boat was denied entry to Thailand “as a vessel suspected of carrying passengers contracting the 2019 novel coronavirus.”

According to Kelly Chrjapin, the failed effort to dock in Thailand was part of a “series of denials” the ship faced as it attempted to travel to multiple countries. 

“Thailand was one of them, the Philippines was another, and then there were 6 or 7 ports in Japan that were scheduled. They were denied entry,”  Chrjapin said, adding, “Guam declined to allow them in, at which point they were just kind of floating for five days or so.”

Eventually, Cambodia began to accept some of the passengers and her parents were staying in a hotel in Phnom Penh, Kelly Chrjapin said. Initially, Chrjapin said there was a plan for the passengers to be flown from Cambodia to Malaysia before going home. 

However, she said Malaysia stopped accepting the passengers when one of them, an 83-year-old woman, tested positive for coronavirus after arriving in Kuala Lumpur from Cambodia. On Feb. 16, Reuters reported the woman was the first from the Westerdam to test positive. 

Kelly Chrjapin said all of the other passengers tested negative in Cambodia and that, after five days there, they were informed they would be flown out of the country on Wednesday evening. That flight, which was a charter, was scheduled to go through Istanbul and end in Detroit. Chrjapin provided Yahoo News with a photo of her parents’ itinerary for the trip.

According to Chrjapin, about halfway through the trip to Istanbul, the flight did a turnabout and landed in Karachi. Chrjapin said she heard from her parents via text message shortly after noon ET on Thursday and learned they were stuck on the tarmac in Karachi.

“We’re on a tarmac in Pakistan. Help,’” Chrjapin quoted her parents’ text.

Chrjapin subsequently called the State Department via a hotline for Americans in distress. She said she was initially disconnected, and directed to a voicemail box, before being sent to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. Someone there directed her to the embassy in Karachi. Chrjapin said she was frustrated with the State Department response, particularly because the first person she spoke to insisted the matter wasn’t “a State Department issue.” 

“They were complete jerks,” said Chrjapin, later adding, “I’ve been dealing with embassies and State for four hours. … Of course this is a State issue. How is it that the emergency line at the State Department can’t do anything?”  

Ultimately, Chrjapin said someone at the embassy in Karachi informed her shortly before 2 p.m. ET that a task force had been formed to address the issue. At that point, the plane had been stranded for about two hours. Chrjapin said someone with the task force told her it was unclear what would happen after the plane arrives in Amsterdam. 

“They’re like, we’re working on it, we just figured out Amsterdam,” Chrjapin said of the task force. “That’s all well and good, but you’ve still got people …. 200 or so are Americans. Deal with it.”

A U.S. consular official who answered a call from Yahoo news on an emergency number provided to family members was aware of the flight with Westerdam passengers bound for Turkey, but declined to answer questions about the Americans’ current location, referring queries to public affairs. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the situation. 

Chrjapin’s parents had been describing their journeys on a Facebook page. In posts on Wednesday and Thursday, Karen Chrjapin said all of the passengers who were in Cambodia, other than the one woman, tested negative for the virus. Karen also described the plan to fly to the U.S. via Istanbul.

“We will have gone around the world during this trip. Good thing my hair is already completely gray,” she wrote. 

Jenna McLaughlin and Sharon Weinberger contributed reporting.

_______

Read Full Story