60 Percent of Cruise Ship's Passengers and Crew Test Positive

The Greg Mortimer off Montevideo (Amb. Ian Duddy)

Published Apr 7, 2020 9:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

After testing all personnel on board, Uruguayan medical authorities have determined that 60 percent of the people aboard the cruise ship Greg Mortimer have COVID-19, according to operator Aurora Expeditions.

Six people have already been evacuated to shore and are in stable condition. An initial round of testing administered to all of those remaining aboard showed that 81 out of 217 had COVID-19. A final batch of test results raised the number of positives to 128, or about six people out of every ten. There are no cases of fever on board, and all of the positive cases are asymptomatic, according to Aurora Expeditions.  

All of the ship's Australian and New Zealand passengers will likely fly home on a chartered aircraft later this week, Aurora said in a statement - including those who are COVID-19 positive. Positive and negative passengers would be seated in separate compartments aboard the plane. The company has asked the Australian government to accept these passengers for a 14-day quarantine period on Australian soil, and Australia's Border Force has nominated a facility in Melbourne for the purpose. 

However, that repatriation flight would come at great cost. The aircraft is a chartered Airbus A340 that has been specially modified to serve as a medical plane. The estimated airfare per passenger would be about $9,200. Given this outsize expense, Aurora has asked the Australian government for assistance with costs, and it is working to avoid passing on the full amount to guests. 

“The cost of the flight back to Australia is material and reflects the global aviation situation as well as the need to bring all passengers back to Australia. It also reflects flying the plane from Portugal to Uruguay, onto Australia and then back to Europe as well as an extensive clean following the flight and the need for two flight crews," Aurora said. 

The company is also working on arrangements to repatriate American and European nationals who have tested positive. However, they will first have to wait until they return a negative test result. All COVID-positive U.S. and EU guests will remain on board the ship and will be retested every 2-3 days, depending upon lab availability. As these COVID-positive passengers begin to test negative, they will be flown out via Sao Paolo. 

Marcelo Gilard, director of prehospital care for the Uruguayan private healthcare company CASMU, told Radio Uruguay that he expects the number of cases on board the vessel to rise as time goes on. Dr. Gilard recently boarded the Greg Mortimer as the coordinator for a medical evaluation team.