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Holland America Line is winding down its role in providing temporary housing to Ukrainians who have been displaced by the war with Russia. Its cruise ship Volendam, a 237-meter-long, 10-deck cruise ship docked in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, just finished a 6-month stint as a temporary refuge for 1,500 of those refugees.
The Volendam left Rotterdam on September 15, 2022, headed for Trieste, Italy, where guests will board on September 24 for a 14-day Holy Land & Ancient Kingdoms Explorer cruise. This will be Volendam’s first full voyage since COVID caused the shutdown of the cruise line industry in March 2020.
In an April 1, 2022, press release, Holland America announced that Volendam “will be used to accommodate Ukrainian refugees as part of an agreement announced by Netherlands and City of Rotterdam government officials.” This agreement included a promise to accommodate 50,000 people fleeing the war in their homeland.
In addition, Holland America Group and its Ukrainian team members started a $1 million emergency assistance fund to provide direct financial support. Gus Antorcha, president, Holland America Line, said in the April press release, “We are in a unique position to accommodate the immediate need for food and housing, so we felt it was very important to work with the City of Rotterdam and charter this ship.”
Team members from all organizations involved made the ship feel as much like home as they could. Crew members who spoke Ukrainian were prominent in the effort, as they communicated with the refugees and worked to meet their needs. Workers created children’s play areas on deck, and the ship’s entertainment stage morphed into a creative learning area. Many Ukrainian adults found jobs in Rotterdam; the children attended local schools.
When Volendam returned to the fleet, Ukrainians who had been on board resettled with relatives or moved to more permanent accommodations in The Netherlands. In an August 30 farewell event on board the ship, Ukrainian families thanked the city of Rotterdam, the Salvation Army (which coordinated many of the relief and social services provided to families), and the ship’s crew. Ryan Whitaker, the ship’s captain, reflected upon the onboard experience of multiple generations of Ukrainian families, saying how much the experience had touched him and the crew.
At this point, you may think that Holland America was the only cruise line that dedicated ships to temporary housing for Ukrainian refugees. Actually, there are several others. Costa Cruises offered its ship, the Costa Magicia, to Italian officials to provide temporary housing. The Australian river cruise and touring operator, APT, and its sister brand, TravelMarvel, donated river ship Capella to help house Ukrainian refugees.
The Tallink Grupp’s Isabelle, a 561-foot ferry docked in the Port of Tallinn in Estonia, temporarily houses some of the more than 48,000 refugees who have arrived in Estonia. And, the Scottish government chartered the 48,000-gross-ton cruise ship Ambition, located in Glasgow, to accommodate up to 1,750 refugees. The Ambition joins the Victoria I, a passenger ship that is currently docked at Leith, which houses about 1,000 refugees.
All of these efforts have come just in time for Ukrainians fleeing their country. The cruise lines stepped up to help. There is more work to be done.
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Laura Ray has lived in Atlanta, the Bay Area, SoCal, and Austin. After moving from Texas, she and her husband rambled about the Midwest in a camper for a couple of years before finally settling on 35 acres in their home state of Kentucky. When she isn’t clacking around on the keyboard (cat in lap), you can find her practicing yoga, gardening, or playing the ukulele. In addition to writing for Quillt sites such as SeniorsMatter.com and Oola.com, she’s also written for Zumper.com and served as Oola’s editor before becoming a Content Strategist for TravelAwaits. This travel-lover’s favorite destinations include Italy, the Greek isles, and Kentucky Lake.