(Theguardian) – After an ill-fated Antarctic expedition in which 60% of passengers and crew contracted coronavirus and spent a month stranded off the coast of South America, the successful repatriation of 132 tourists from a Australian cruise ship seemed like a rare happy ending.
But what should have been a peaceful epilogue in which the crew of the Greg Mortimer sailed safely home has become a gruesome sequel of sickness and panic – with the added possibility of a legal battle in Miami courts.
In recent days, tensions aboard the stranded ship reached a breaking point over allegations that the ship’s operators and captain pressured the chief medical officer to mislead authorities in Uruguay about the health situation onboard.
Emails seen by the Guardian appear to show that two companies associated with the Greg Mortimer – Miami-based crewing company CMI/Sunstone and the Australian cruise operator Aurora Expeditions – urged Dr Mauricio Usme to downplay the severity of the outbreak.
A doctor from a third company linked to the vessel – the Fort Lauderdale medical company Vikand – also allegedly suggested Usme should play down the health situation onboard.
The ship remains anchored 20km off the coast of Uruguay. Thirty-three members of its 85-strong crew – including Dr Usme – have tested positive for coronavirus, and one has died of Covid-19.
“More will continue getting sick,” Usme told the Guardian over a tenuous WhatsApp connection.
“We’re all exposed to the risk of potential death as long as we remain onboard, because having coronavirus is like having a timebomb ticking inside you that could go off at any moment.”
Usme and eight other crew members have retained the services of Miami maritime lawyer Louis Vucci. “At some point there could be legal action for them getting Covid unnecessarily,” Vucci told the Guardian.
The Greg Mortimer set out from the Argentinian port of Ushuaia on 15 March – four days after the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared an international pandemic.
After a week at sea, coronavirus symptoms were detected, but by then, Argentina had closed its ports to cruise ships, so the Greg Mortimer changed course to Uruguay.