Australians stuck on a coronavirus-infected cruise ship near Uruguay face a $15,000 fee – each – to get home, as the travel company works on a plan to have them quarantined in Melbourne.
It comes as more details have emerged about the state of passengers and crew on board the ship, which is owned by Australia’s Aurora Expeditions.
The company said early on Wednesday that more than half of the 217 passengers on the Greg Mortimer had the virus – although they were showing no symptoms.
“There are currently no fevers onboard and all are asymptomatic,” the cruise ship operator said.
Six infected people were removed taken from the ship in Montevideo. They remain in hospital in the Uruguayan capital, in stable conditions.
Plans are underway to get other passengers home.
“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 company said.
Australian Border Force had asked for an Airbus A340, refitted to act as a medical plane, to land in Melbourne, the statement said.
It has also requested that passengers spend two weeks in quarantine at a single Melbourne facility.
“While our preferred plan had been to disembark all passengers simultaneously, the nature of the situation and the difficulty 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,” Aurora Expeditions said.
Aurora Expeditions is still trying to work out how the Australians will be able to afford the $15,000 flight fee, which it said was a “hard cost” and “underdetermined at this stage”.
The company said it was doing “everything possible to expedite disembarkation” and hoped to have the passengers fly out later this week.
The company has called on the federal government to help fund the mercy flight.
The Airbus is expected to have to seat the coronavirus-infected people away from everyone else.
Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a 30-day ban on cruise ship arrivals in Australia. Yet four vessels have been allowed to dock since, including ill-fated Ruby Princess, which is at Port Kembla, near Wollongong.
At least 200 of the Ruby Princess’s 1040 crew members have coronavirus symptoms, but no one has been allowed to disembark the ship. Rather, all are being medically assessed while remaining on board.