MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — The final 15 passengers, including six Americans, were evacuated Wednesday from an Australian cruise ship that has been anchored off Uruguay’s coast for almost three weeks with more than half the people aboard infected with the new coronavirus at one point. The passengers were taken to Montevideo’s airport and boarded a charter flight to Miami.
The Greg Mortimer departed March 15 on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia that was titled “In Shackleton’s Footsteps,” a reference to the polar explorer who led British expeditions to the region and died there in 1922. But the trip was canceled after much of the crew and passengers tested positive for COVID-19 and the ship reached the Uruguayan coast on March 27.
Uruguay initially refused to let the passengers off the Greg Mortimer, which is operated by Australia’s Aurora Expeditions, but last week it evacuated 112 Australians and New Zealanders, most of whom had COVID-19.
On Friday, Uruguayan authorities formed a “humanitarian corridor” to transport the remaining Americans, three British citizens, five Europeans and a Canadian to the airport. After the charter flight reaches Miami, the passengers will be flown to their home cities and countries.
The health of the passengers evacuated on Wednesday is good, said Dr. Marcelo Gilard, director of pre-hospital assistance at the Uruguayan clinic CASMU where the ship’s 86 crew members will be held. Two other passengers remain in The British Hospital in Montevideo
“The crew is going to remain in quarantine,” said Uruguayan Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi.
After the quarantine, the cruise ship will sail to Las Palmas, Spain, which was its final destination.
“The crew suspects they may have made contact (with the virus) in Ushuaia” in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, where the ship departed from in mid-March, said Gilard. “The city is like an airport; there is traffic of all nationalities and it is a stop where the crew disembarks for recreation.”
From March 13 until Wednesday, Uruguay has had 493 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and eight deaths. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.