12 Apr 2020

Mercy flight bringing New Zealand, Aussie cruise ship passengers home

3:39 pm on 12 April 2020

A plane evacuating 16 New Zealanders from a cruise ship in Uruguay landed in Melbourne this morning, before bringing 13 of them to Auckland.

Passengers of the COVID-19 coronavirus-stricken Australian liner Greg Mortimer disembark in personal protective equipment from the cruise ship at Montevideo's port from where Australian and New Zealander passengers will be directly escorted to the international airport

Passengers are evacuated from the ship before boarding a bus to take them to the airport in Montevideo. Photo: AFP

The group have been stuck on the Greg Mortimer, where more than half of its 217 passengers have tested positive for Covid-19.

Thirteen of the Kiwis flew on to Auckland this afternoon, where they will be tested and quarantined.

The other three are Australian residents and will remain there.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters welcomed their return, saying they were in a risky position being unable to shelter safely on the ship or book a flight home.

"A considerable amount of work has been put in to assist all 16 New Zealanders, who were in a dangerous situation with very limited options," Peters said.

The cruise company, Aurora Expeditions, had been working with the governments of Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand to get people off the ship.

The ABC is reporting that the cost per passenger is about $A15,000 ($15,600), and the cruise ship operator wants the federal government in Australia to help with expenses.

Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer says Australians on the Antarctic cruise who have been stranded in Uruguay will be quarantined in Melbourne hotels.

The ship, which has been moored near Montevideo since 21 March, was supposed to re-trace explorer Ernest Shackleton's famous Antarctic expeditions, but was cut short.

Aerial view of Australian cruise ship Greg Mortimer off the port of Montevideo on 7 April 7 2020.

An aerial view of the Greg Mortimer moored off the coast of Montevideo before it was allowed to enter the port. Photo: AFP

In late March, there were 372 New Zealanders still on board 30 cruise ships throughout the world, but early this week that number fell to 58, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

Among those repatriated were 15 New Zealanders who were on the MS Zaandam cruise ship who were able to travel home safely after it was allowed to dock in Florida.

The ship's authorities had reported an outbreak of more than 100 people suffering a flu-like illness, and at least four deaths onboard.

Since mid-March it was refused entry to a series of Latin American ports along its route, and initially the United States.


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