Passengers who were on board an antarctic expedition that became riddled with COVID-19 are preparing to launch a class action against the ship’s owners.
Melbourne-based law firm Arnold, Thomas and Becker announced they are investigating Sydney-based cruise company, Aurora Expeditions for endangering the lives of the 217 passengers and crew on board the Greg Mortimer which left Argentina just days after the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic.
The firm alleges that Aurora Expeditions encouraged the ship’s doctor to “exaggerate and minimise” the seriousness of an outbreak onboard after passengers and crew began to show symptoms of COVID-19 within a week of the voyage.
“This led to an exacerbation of the outbreak, which could have been contained if handled correctly,” the firm said on its website.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the ship’s chief medical officer Dr Mauricio Usme was allegedly pressured by an Aurora Expeditions executive to downplay the severity of the outbreak to Uruguayan authorities.
“The risk we carry is public outcry and wharf side workers refusing to allow the ship to berth and allow passengers to disembark,” the executive said in an email.
“Please bear in mind that how you write the health declaration will influence the way that this is viewed. We don’t know we have Covid-19.”
It is also being alleged that passengers were told they would not receive a refund if they did not board the ship, despite the global pandemic.
The Greg Mortimer, which was quarantined off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay for almost two weeks, was carrying mostly Australian passengers.
A spokesperson for the Australian cruise line confirmed that 128 of the 217 passengers and staff on board who were tested returned a positive result.
The firm is seeking to win compensation for passengers and crew who were on board the ship including a full refund of their trip, damages covering distress and disappointment, loss of wages, medical costs, personal injury covering COVID-19 infection, psychological injuries or the loss of a loved one.
A spokesperson from Aurora Expeditions told Travel Weekly it has not yet been notified of the potential action, but it “rejects the characterisation of the situation and will, if and as required, vigorously defend the matter”.