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Sixteen Kiwis are "trapped" on a cruise off Uruguay with an escalating crisis on board.
One passenger with Covid-19 has slipped into critical condition in hospital amid signs the ship's doctor is also falling ill.
The doctor is among nine people still on the Australian-flagged cruise ship who have fevers, according to the latest update from Aurora Expeditions.
Tina and Graham of Tauranga are among the Kiwis on board, after taking the "horrendously expensive" trip to Antarctica and South America that has since turned into a "nightmare".
They left for the trip of a lifetime at the point the world was starting to grasp the potential impact of the deadly coronavirus.
When they emerged from life at sea to return to land, the world had changed.
The couple, who are in their 60s, did not want to provide their last names for security reasons but spoke to NZME about their desperation.
They booked the three-week trip on Aurora Expeditions' ship the Greg Mortimer, two years ago.
They left New Zealand on March 11 and their cruise left Argentina on March 15 "before anything untoward happened", Tina said.
"We had the chief executive of Aurora cruises there. They made the decision to go ahead. I think the idea was that after three weeks in Antarctica everything would be over. Nobody anticipated that it would go the way it did."
She said if she and Graham had pulled out of the cruise last month they would not have got any insurance money back.
"It's not just something where you say 'let's go the next year'. It's something that you really wish for."
They were told of the first fever on board on March 22 and have not been able to leave their cabins and balconies since then.
"Our ship's doctor now has a fever and we are organising a back-up volunteer medic", the latest update from Aurora Expeditions said yesterday.
The letter sent to passengers and their families at 11am New Zealand time said there had been three new cases of fever in the 24 hours prior - all crew members.
"In the last hour or so we have formally escalated our request to the Uruguayan Ministry of Health to allow us to bring the Greg Mortimer dockside and to urgently map a path to get you on the path to disembarkation and back to your home countries.
"We have also briefed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade [Australian] and all the embassies and authorities that have been working with us around the world.
"The reason for the escalation is that while we have 106 healthy passengers on board, we now have confirmation that our fellow passenger in hospital has tested positive for Covid-19 [coronavirus]. The passenger is currently in ICU [intensive care] and getting the best care possible."
The letter said Aurora had "made it clear that the ill health and the isolating of the crew is making it difficult to maintain the same standard of essential services on board".
"As part of the strategy to get you off the ship, we will start comprehensive testing on our healthy passengers. We have been in contact with the Atgen-Diagnostica Lab in Montevideo that is approved and authorised by the Uruguay Health Ministry. They are sending collection kits for us to commence testing."
The letter finished by saying the ship had "increased the availability of counselling".
"We know that today's information will be particularly upsetting".
The ship left Antarctica early, skipped the planned leg of the journey in South Georgia and headed to the Falkland Islands.
It was hoped passengers could come ashore and fly home from there but the Falkland Islanders wouldn't let the cruise dock.
The ship has been stranded at anchor at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay since March 27.
The passenger, now in ICU, was taken ashore in an emergency boat.
"We are now basically in an incubator for the virus and are very concerned about our health. Both my husband and I have underlying health conditions which are totally managed but could lead to complications with the virus," Tina told NZME.
She said many people on board were in the most "dangerous" age group - in their 70s and above.
"Why can't the Uruguayan authorities allow us to dock without getting off the ship so that at least the testing can be done? This should be [done] for humanitarian reasons alone."
Meals have been delivered to passengers' doors by crew in personal protective gear.
Originally passengers could choose from three dining options at each meal but now they "get what they're given".
"Continued delivery of food and drink has been cut back considerably," she said.
"We understand the necessity for that and are also concerned for the people who have to prepare and deliver the food.
"People will soon be running out of their medication ... all these necessary things because our cruise should be finished."
In the past 24 hours, water use on the ship has also been restricted and the sea conditions have become rough.
"We have problems standing up," Tina said.
Graham said the situation was "a real guessing game".
"No one really knows what's going on."
When asked if there should have been a better plan for a Covid-19 outbreak he said: "Hindsight is a wonderful thing".
Despite this, the ship's staff had been "incredible" he said.
"To a certain extent, we are very lucky because we've got a reasonable cabin. The ship's actually only on its third voyage, it's very new ... And we've got the ability to go through the sliding door to go on a small balcony which at least gives you some fresh air, which a lot of people locked down are not able to achieve."
Graham said "if sitting in a cabin doing nothing is what it's like in retirement ... I'm going to work".
"We're up to 25 movies. We're doing puzzles ... reading. But it makes a long day of it."
Graham's brother Ross, who also lives in Tauranga, said the situation was "dreadful" and " a very real concern".
"The whole issue just snowballed ... Who knows potentially how long they may end up on that boat if they can't get off?"
Before they left the couple were "very excited" to go to Antarctica for the first time.
"At that point, it was kind of very early days. The numbers [of Covid-19 cases] were just starting to unfold. But obviously in the last two weeks or thereabouts the whole global scene has just exploded."
The New Zealanders on the Greg Mortimer cruise have been contacting each other via email.
In a statement to NZME, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was helping the "16 New Zealanders on board".
As of 4pm yesterday, the ministry had "no information to suggest any New Zealander on board is unwell with Covid-19".
It said advice on SafeTravel was updated on March 11 "advising those who were going on a cruise to reconsider plans due to the Covid-19 pandemic".
"This advice has subsequently upgraded to warning New Zealanders against all overseas travel."
The ministry said the pandemic was "the largest consular response the New Zealand government has ever undertaken".
"We are providing advice and information to nearly 23,000 New Zealanders overseas registered on SafeTravel (of which more than 17,000 say they are living overseas rather than just travelling), and we appreciate the distress many New Zealanders and their families are facing from this unparalleled situation."
It said officials were in "constant contact with consular counterparts from other countries to share information and, when possible, to work together on solutions to help out our nationals overseas".
"Although it is increasingly difficult to return to New Zealand, the Government remains committed to helping New Zealanders overseas."
Tina said the other Kiwis onboard were from Auckland, Napier, Wellington, and parts of the South Island.
"Most of the people here are Australian. They have some Americans that want to go home, Swedish, Dutch and English too."
She and Graham were meant to continue their trip on another cruise along the coast of Patagonia and then head to Bolivia and Europe.
"All this has been cancelled," Tina said.
She said getting their money back was the "least of their worries".
"I just want to get home, then I will contact insurance and everything else."