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Ukrainian refugees accommodated on a cruise ship in Rotterdam


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

Today, a cruise liner also opened its doors to 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 shelter for 1,500 Ukrainians.

“Our crew consider it 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 moored in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for three months.

Courtesy of 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 for temporary accommodation.

Volendam had yet to return to service after the Covid-19 pandemic, but the ship was fully equipped for a planned return to passenger crossings in May.

Sibrand Hassing, director of operations for Holland America’s European fleet, told CNN Travel the cruise line was keen to help because it was able to “meet immediate food and housing needs.”

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

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

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

Ukrainians staying in Volendam will receive three hot meals a day and will also be able to use the ship’s various facilities, including housekeeping services, Wi-Fi and a fitness center.

“Our crew on board are known for their service and hospitality and we are ready to welcome our new guests as we would welcome guests to our own homes,” said Captain Ryan Whitaker.

Volendam will remain moored at Merwehaven, a cargo port on the Meuse in Rotterdam, for the duration of the three-month charter. People on board can disembark whenever they want, including to go to school.

Rotterdam’s spokesperson said city officials were “working hard to provide education for every Ukrainian refugee child in Rotterdam.”

“We expect to achieve this goal somewhere in the next two weeks,” the spokesperson said. “It will not take place on this ship, but at a place somewhere in Rotterdam.”

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

People on board will be encouraged to wear a mask, in line with Dutch Covid-19 regulations. The Rotterdam city spokesman also said Ukrainians will undergo a general health check upon boarding, with anyone with Covid-like symptoms being tested. Vaccines will also be available. Holland America said its crew will follow its usual Covid regulations.

Upcoming cruises from Volendam have been canceled as potential travelers have alternative options. Volendam is expected to resume regular service in July. Upcoming itineraries include midnight sun trips to the Arctic Circle and tours of northern European capitals, with tickets costing around $2,400 per person for two weeks.

Photo from the top of Volendam courtesy of Holland America Line

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