There are 36 cruise ships around the world with Australians on board – some with cases of COVID-19 – struggling to find a port that will let them disembark.
Some of them have already turned into Petri dishes, and are struggling to contain the viruses spread on board.
Victorian man Colin told The New Daily his 82-year-old mother is one of 39 Australians on board the MS Costa Luminosa cruise liner, which is desperately searching for a port to offload passengers.
The ships logs, which were obtained by the Miami Herald show 24 crew members and 50 passengers are now either sick or sharing a cabin with someone else who is unwell.
Colin, who only wanted his first name known, spoke to his mum on Friday morning and said she was distressed.
“I can only speak to her for a few minutes, she was sounding out of it and distressed, and I didn’t want to prolong that,” he told The New Daily.
“She’s been seasick for three weeks without any attention on board and has been confined to her cabin since Sunday.
“My understanding is, in Marseille, they were told they would disembark, which was the last scheduled port of call.
“The Americans and Canadians were disembarked, but Australians and other nationalities were not allowed.”
Because of an agreement between the French and US governments, 200 Americans were allowed to disembark in the country, which closed its borders last week. They all got on a flight home.
The Australians were not so lucky and are now en route to Italy, the only country that seems set to accept the Italian-flagged vessel.
The cruise company has been slow to contain the spread on board.
It was three days after the first case was recorded that the staff started wearing gloves – and put napkins over their mouths when delivering meals.
A week passed before people were isolated in their rooms and they started regularly taking everyone’s temperature.
Colin has called both the Australian embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) but says he was given no information about how his mother will get home safely.
“What is the point of having DFAT if they don’t come to the assistance of Australians when they’ve paid taxes all their lives,” he asked.
“I don’t want to be critical (of DFAT). It’s easy to be critical, and there is a lot they’re needing to deal with – everyone’s hotlines and emergency lines are clogged up right now.
“It’s not easy. But one would hope a coordinated approach would get a lot of people around the world home where they need to be.”
There are rumours on the ship that the cruise company, which had not responded to The New Daily at time of publishing, is believed to be organising travel out of Italy, but no one is certain.
Cruise liners with no cases have also been caught up in the chaotic scene on the high seas, as countries rapidly shut their borders and leave hopeful passengers bouncing from one port to the next.
New South Wales woman Bec Smith is calling on the Australian government to bring everyone stuck on cruises home, after her mother, aunt, uncle and a close family friend have been stuck aboard the MS Norwegian Jewel.
There are 280 Australians on the liner, which has bounced from Tahiti, to New Zealand, to Fiji, and are now sits off the coast of Honolulu.
The cruise was meant to end a week ago, and while the passengers are allowed to roam around the ship freely, there are restrictions on phone calls and internet use.
“It’s costing them $120 to get 100 minutes of WiFi,” Ms Smith said.
“When she rung us she had been in a line for four hours. You have to line up and use the phones, so everyone on the boat is trying to ring home or ring to get flights.
“They’re not giving them much communication on board. Until that call I hadn’t spoken to her in six days.”
Each time they’ve gone to a new port, they’ve expected to get off the ship, and have been forced by the cruise company to buy flights home – Ms Smith and her family have forked out over $6000 already on unused return airfares.
“It would be over $6000 in flights. You have to give the captain all your flight details, so they could disembark,” she said.
Ms Smith rang DFAT to see if they could provide her with any information or assistance, but says she got a lacklustre response.
“It sounded like they were reading off a script. They couldn’t tell me any information on how these Australians will get home,” she said.
Many passengers on board and concerned about having to disembark in a country that closes it borders and getting stuck there, she said.
“I know policies are changing hourly because of the situation, but apparently there are people on the ship who are older and unwell.
“They’re all worried about how they’ll get home.”
In response to The New Daily‘s questions, DFAT said it was working with both companies to get all Australians home.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continues to work closely with the cruise industry and cruise lines to provide advice to Australian passengers on cruise ships with itineraries impacted by COVID-19,” it said.
“The Department, through our diplomatic missions in Washington and Australian Consulate-General in Honolulu, is working closely with local authorities to ensure Australians can return home.”