By Luke Voogt
COVID-19 fears have stranded an elderly Highton couple on an Antarctic cruise ship off Uruguay as their family tries desperately to get them home.
David and Estelle Cameron, in their 70s, are among 140 Australians and New Zealanders aboard the Ocean Atlantic, according to daughter Janelle Cameron-Lee.
The couple left Australia late last month before embarking on the “trip of a lifetime” to Antarctica, Ms Cameron-Lee told the Independent yesterday.
“They left Argentina on March 2 when the Australian government was still telling people it’s OK to travel to Antarctica.”
Ms Cameron-Lee, who lives in western Sydney, spoke to her parents on Wednesday for the first time since the ship left Argentina. The couple paid to use the ship’s satellite phone after seeing crew disembark.
“I think they’re putting on a brave face for myself and the family,” she said.
The ship docked in Uruguay about 36 hours ago and passengers have been unable to disembark despite authorities finding no coronavirus infections on the ship.
“The ship is completely clean of the coronavirus and they’re getting checked twice a day by the doctor,” Ms Cameron-Lee said.
“They do have internet – that they spent $20 for half an hour on – but they couldn’t even get their emails off it.
“They have said other people on board are starting to lose it a little but I don’t know that for sure.”
Argentinian officials prohibited the cruise from docking in Buenos Aires on March 16, Ms Cameron-Lee said.
The ship had already been turned away from Ushuaia, a city on Argentina’s southern tip, and the British-held Falkland Islands, she said.
Ms Cameron-Lee said her parents and the other Australians and New Zealanders on board had payed $5500 each for a chartered flight to Sydney but they had no concrete mention of a flight actually happening.
“We just keep on thinking there’s going to be an answer but the longer it goes on the more worrying it gets.”
“What [others with family on-board] are telling me is that Montevideo airport is not actually big enough for that charted flight.
“We want the government to negotiate a place for the plane that they’ve paid for to land and bring them home.
“We’re just trying to get them home.”
Ms Cameron-Lee said she had been in constant contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“We basically get told, ‘we’re aware of the situation, we have no advice at this stage, call back in two days’ time.’
Ms Cameron-Lee’s sister-in-law, Grovedale nurse Lisa Cameron, said she, husband Brendan and their two children Rhys, 14 and Lillie, 11, were becoming increasingly worried about the situation.
“We’re trying to shelter [the children] which is a bit hard when we’ve got constant phone calls and updates coming in. It’s a bit of a mess.”
Uruguay has closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.The families of Australians stranded on the cruise ship have written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging him to intervene.
UPDATE: At 7.09am today, after the Independent went to press yesterday afternoon, Ms Cameron-Lee passed on a text message from her father David Cameron.
In the text message Mr Cameron indicated a contract had been signed for chartered flights to Australia.
“The ball is now in [Chilean airline] LATAM’s court to come back to us with details of a date time etc,” the text read.
“DFAT has been approved, the flight to take place and a contract has been signed. Charter flight is departing from Montevideo. Tentative flight date is now Monday March 30th.”
“As it stands we have permission to stay alongside until the tentative flight date. Currently docked in port in Montevideo.
“The Greg Mortimer, another ship, has 100 Australians that are due to join us on the flight. That ship is due in port in the next 24-36 hours.”