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Bob and Bev James were spending their golden years travelling the world, having been on about 35 cruises together.

But within days of returning to New Zealand last month from their trip along the New South Wales coast on Voyager of the Seas, the husband and wife of 43 years were in an ambulance heading to Wellington Hospital.

They both had Covid-19. A few weeks later, on April 13, Bob died and his wife's life had been "ripped apart".


Now their family are looking at joining a class action suit against the cruise line the couple had been travelling with, Royal Caribbean.

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Bob, also known as Gary by some loved ones, is one of 14 people who have died in New Zealand after catching the virus.

The 79-year-old lived with his wife in a retirement village at Raumati Beach with their beloved black poodle and led an active, happy life.

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Bev's son Brian Greenough told the Herald the family have been in touch with a lawyer about the lawsuit against Royal Caribbean for its handling of the ship and its passengers.

He said the ship travelled up and down the NSW coast for several days before berthing in Sydney on the day the cruise was scheduled to end.

He claims passengers were not told about any health risks on board the ship, and that if they had disembarked earlier Bob might have been able to get medical help sooner.

Robert McIlwraith-James (left) with Bob and Bev James on the beach with their pet dog. Photo / Supplied
Robert McIlwraith-James (left) with Bob and Bev James on the beach with their pet dog. Photo / Supplied

By the time he died, only one small piece of one of his lungs was still viable, and had he survived he would have required respiratory assistance for the rest of his life, Greenough said.

The couple were hospitalised together until Bob deteriorated and was taken to the intensive care unit (ICU) to be put on a ventilator.


Bev told her son that her last memory of her husband was seeing him being taken out of the room on a gurney.

Bob and Bev James on their wedding day. Photo / Supplied
Bob and Bev James on their wedding day. Photo / Supplied

But it's unclear if the memory is real, Greenough said, because his mother "was too delirious" during her illness.

Greenough himself faced the difficult task of breaking the news of the death to his mother over the phone, and having to repeat the story three times because she was too delirious to take it in.

He also had to tell her the next day that her dog had died.

She has now recovered from the virus, and isolating in Kāpiti, but is still in a frail state mentally, he said.

"I'm talking to her five times a day ... her life has been ripped apart, shredded, thrown out.

"Whenever I ring up, I don't know what version of mum I'm going to get ... I just have to prepare her for the next few hours."

Bob's son, Robert McIlwraith-James, said his father's death hadn't "hit home" yet.

"It's almost like when this is over I will give him a call and head up to have a beer with him," he said.

"It's almost like it hasn't happened."

ICU staff organised for him to farewell his dad before he died, over a Zoom video call while his father was on a ventilator.

The staff played a song to his dad that he'd requested, he said.

He was worried his stepmother would be "lost" without James.

The pair were "always out doing something".

"You'd never see them home ... I think they had a great life."

Glen Sowry, chief executive of Metlifecare, which runs Coastal Villas where the couple lived, said nobody else at the village has caught the virus.

He said it was a "massive relief".

McIlwraith-James said his father was "always happy".

"He was always in a good mood. Very rarely did I ever see him in a bad mood. He was always out doing something."

Bob "loved wandering down the road with his little dog to the beach" and was active in his community caring for others and delivering Meals on Wheels.

It was hard for McIlwraith-James and other loved ones to watch the news and hear about people in the ICU with coronavirus, knowing James was one of them and "far from well".

So far New Zealand has had 1451 confirmed and probable cases of the virus, of which 1036 are reported to have recovered.

Numerous cases of Covid-19 have been connected to cruise ships around the world.

Bob and Bev James loved travelling the world together. Photo / Supplied
Bob and Bev James loved travelling the world together. Photo / Supplied

The Ruby Princess - which is not the ship the James were on - is at the centre of one of Australia's largest clusters, and is responsible for a cluster of 22 cases in New Zealand after it docked in Hawke's Bay for a day.

Since the ship docked in Sydney more than three weeks ago, at least 18 people have died and hundreds have been confirmed to have the virus.

Australian police have begun a criminal investigation into Carnival Australia's conduct over the matter.

Royal Caribbean has been contacted for comment about the handling of the Voyager of the Seas trip. The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website