Australian cruise passengers on board the Greg Mortimer, who have been in lockdown since 22 March, have finally received word they will be flying home in the next few days.
The Aurora Expeditions ship, which has been anchored off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay, since 28 March and is carrying mostly Australian passengers, reported yesterday that a majority of its passengers and crew has tested positive for COVID-19.
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.
“There are currently no fevers onboard and all are asymptomatic,” the spokesperson said.
“We have been working on charters and flights for all onboard with the aim of disembarking our passengers as soon as possible.
“While our preferred plan had been to disembark all passengers simultaneously, the nature of the situation and the difficultly in securing flights has meant it is likely that the Australian and New Zealand passengers will leave the vessel before our European (UK included) and North American passengers.”
With the help of DFAT, the cruise line has been able to secure a company that will take all Australian passengers back to Australia.
“We have also asked DFAT to accept the NZ passengers into Australia and allow the NZ passengers to complete their quarantine in Australia before returning home,” the spokesperson said.
“We expect the flight will leave within two to three days and are doing everything possible to expedite disembarkation.”
The spokesperson confirmed the plane going to Australia is set up with medical facilities for this type of situation and will be managed in alignment with current COVID-19 protocol to ensure the health and safety of all onboard.
Border Force has requested the plane fly to Melbourne and for passengers to undergo their mandatory 14-day quarantine in a facility in Melbourne.
The flight to Australia is expected to cost $15,000 per passenger and Aurora Expeditions has asked the Australian government for support with the cost and acknowledges it is not viable for many people.
“We are working on a solution,” the spokesperson said.
“We have shared this information with our passengers to be 100 per cent transparent and are doing everything we can to ensure this full amount is not passed on to each individual.
“As always, we would like to acknowledge the Uruguayan public health and infectious diseases team for their ongoing time and support.”
The Guardian has reported that six “gravely ill” passengers were transported via a navy vessel to the British Hospital in Montevideo. The line has since confirmed they are all in a stable condition.
The ship departed the Argentinian port of Ushuaia on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia on 15 March and has been in lockdown for almost 20 days, and anchored off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay, since 28 March.