CRISIS AT SEA
Although the possibility of illness or death may be the last thing you want to think or talk about when you are making travel plans, the following experience of a couple on a 1992 cruise aboard the Ocean Pearl may change your mind.
No advance planning could have anticipated the experience of Shirley and her recently retired husband, George, as the Ocean Pearl sailed from Pusan, Korea headed for Vladivostok, Russia. During the first night at sea, in international waters, George had a heart attack and died. Shirley, suddenly a widow, was in a state of shock. Thanks to the ship's doctor, caring ship personnel and many compassionate new friends, she was able to cope.
Maritime law dictates that a body must be removed from a ship at the first available port. Vladivostok, the headquarters of the Russian Pacific Fleet, had only been open to tourists since January 1992, and there was no United States consulate or embassy there. This was the Ocean Pearl's second visit and only one other cruise ship had stopped there since the opening. When confronted with the problem of the disposition of George's body, the Vladivostok authorities did not know what to do, and they hesitated before contacting Moscow for instructions.
The authorities in Moscow finally decided George's body must be shipped to Moscow in a sealed coffin before the remains could be cremated and the ashes sent home to the United States. In addition, an Intourist official would have to come from Moscow to Vladivostok to accompany the body to Moscow. Shirley was asked for $10,000 to cover expenses.
At this point, Shirley called her lawyer in the United States and was instructed not to give anyone a penny. Her lawyer then called the State Department in Washington, D.C. After consulting with the Emergency Assistance For Travelers Overseas Department, Shirley's lawyer instructed her not to pay any money in Vladivostok but to send $5,000 to the State Department in Washington, D.C. and they would send the money to the United States embassy in Moscow. The officials there would take care of all details and give her an itemized accounting.
The communication facilities available to Shirley on the ship enabled her to make the numerous telephone calls necessary to complete all these details.
One complication did develop when Delta Airlines refused to accept Russian rubles as payment to fly the urn holding George's ashes to the United States. Shirley worked through the Neptune Society to settle this account.
She stayed on the ship while it stopped at Korsakov, Russia and on to our first Japanese port, Otaru, on Hokkaido Island. Here an official from the U.S. embassy met her, drove her to nearby Sapporo Airport and assisted her with flight reservations to Tokyo and on to her home in southern California.
George died June 16, 1992, and his remains reached home July 2, 1992, after traveling approximately 6,000 miles from Vladivostok to Moscow and another 12,000 miles to California.
"It was a shattering experience," Shirley said, "but George would have seen the humor of it all. He would have laughed at being the cause of such an international commotion."
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