Coronavirus takes wind out of historic Dutch fleet’s sails

PAMPUS, Netherlands (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has taken the wind out of the sails of a fleet of historic Dutch boats that take paying guests around waterways in the Netherlands.

Some 175 boats and their crews gathered Tuesday in Ijmeer lake east of Amsterdam to call for targeted government support for them and their lovingly restored vessels amid the global pandemic.

At 2 p.m. (1200 GMT), the boats assembled near the fortified island of Pampus sounded their horns in unison. Many of the boats flew pennants and Dutch red, white and blue tricolor flags from their wooden masts.

The owners say that Dutch government financial lifelines for small businesses are not enough to keep them afloat because of the high costs of maintaining the boats and problems adapting to social distancing guidelines.

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“Due to the corona crisis, it’s very likely that these ships will disappear out of our landscape because we can’t sail them anymore with guests, and that’s how we maintain the ships — by sailing with them and earning some money with that,” fleet organization representative Joost Martijn said. “And now it’s impossible to sail with them because of the virus and because of the government regulations now.”

Dutch authorities have freed up billions of euros to help businesses affected by measures to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, but some companies complain that conditions set by the government to access the funds mean some people are missing out on the financial aid.

The boat owners want the government to establish an emergency fund to help them weather the financial storm kicked up by the coronavirus crisis. Martijn said around 400 historical boats ply the waterways of the Netherlands and beyond, employing about 800 people.

“We need a solution that fits for our line of work, for these ships, so that we can maintain them for Holland and for the world, these beautiful classical sailing ships.” he said.

An online petition launched in support of the fleet has already registered more than 16,000 signatures.

The boats, the oldest of which dates to 1875, carry some 300,000 passengers each year around Dutch waters, but many will struggle to survive amid coronavirus social distancing measures, organizers of Tuesday’s protest say.

Pampus island was chosen as location for Tuesday’s waterborne demonstration because of a Dutch saying, translated as “Anchored at Pampus,” that means exhausted.

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Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands.

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