The son of a Tauranga couple trapped on a cruise ship says "cracks are starting to show" as a passenger fights Covid-19 in intensive care and staff fall ill.

There are nine people with fever on board the Greg Mortimer, off the coast of Uruguay, including the ship's doctor.

Passengers will be tested for Covid-19 today by a team coming to the ship from the Uruguayan Ministry of Public Health.

Aurora Expeditions cruise ship Greg Mortimer takes travellers on three-week voyages around Antarctica and South Georgia, from Argentina. Photo / File
Aurora Expeditions cruise ship Greg Mortimer takes travellers on three-week voyages around Antarctica and South Georgia, from Argentina. Photo / File

There are 16 New Zealanders on the cruise including Tina and Graham - who did not want to provide their surnames for security reasons - from the Bay of Plenty.

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Their son Ben told the Bay of Plenty Times he was becoming more concerned each day as more borders closed and flights reduced.

He said the cruise company was doing all it could.

"But now that staff are sick - the cracks are starting to show and that's when everyone starts falling apart. So it's in the best interest for everyone to get off the boat now."

He said the "good amount of Kiwis and Australians onboard" gave him some comfort.

"At least they're [Aurora Expeditions and governments] going to have to do something with all of them at some stage and as long as they can stick together, there's at least a chance."

His young children do not know about their grandparents' cruise troubles.

The couple are in their 60s and are "very concerned".

They had been building excitement about their cruise to Antarctica and South America for two years but now Tina calls the "horrendously expensive" three-week trip "a nightmare".

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"No one really knows what's going on," Graham told the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday.

New Zealanders on the ship have banded together via email while they are confined to their cabins.

Some prepared a statement for media saying "if all the authorities can keep the parts moving and keep working together to facilitate an agreed path home ... that outcome would be priceless".

Aurora Expeditions has escalated a request to dock the ship to the Uruguayan Government to "urgently map a path to get all passengers and staff, back to their home countries", the cruise company's managing director Robert Halfpenny said in a letter to passengers and families yesterday.

"Our passenger who tested positive to Covid-19 is currently in a stable but critical condition in ICU at a hospital in Uruguay."

"While there is some way to go yet, all the work being done by our embassies, authorities and the Uruguayan Government is meaningful," the letter said.

"The counselling team have set a Facebook group where they are posting videos to help cope with stress at this time and we encourage you and your family/friends to join this group."

The letter said there were 106 "healthy" passengers aboard.

Tina and Graham's family in the Bay of Plenty are messaging them online each day and forwarding updates to wider family and friends.

Graham's brother Ross said it was "a dreadful situation".

"The whole issue just snowballed."

Tina and Graham 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 money back.

"It's not just something where you say 'let's go the next year'. It's something that you really wish for."

Aurora Expeditions cruise ship Greg Mortimer takes travellers on three-week voyages around Antarctica and South Georgia, from Argentina. Photo / File
Aurora Expeditions cruise ship Greg Mortimer takes travellers on three-week voyages around Antarctica and South Georgia, from Argentina. Photo / File

They were told of the first fever on board on March 22 and have not been able to leave their cabins and balconies since.

A letter sent to passengers and their families on Thursday said there had been three new cases of fever in 24 hours - all crew members.

The letter said ill-health and crew isolation was making it difficult to maintain the standard of essential services on board.

The ship left Antarctica early, skipped the planned leg of the journey in South Georgia and headed to the Falkland Islands.

It had hoped passengers could come ashore and fly home from there but Falkland Islanders wouldn't let the cruise dock.

The ship has been 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.

Tina told NZME she and her husband were very concerned about their health.

"We are now basically in an incubator for the virus ... My husband and I have underlying health conditions, which are totally managed but could lead to complications with the virus."

She said many people on board were in their 70s and above, the most at-risk group.

"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."

Crew in protective gear were delivering meals to passengers.

Aurora Expeditions cruise ship Greg Mortimer takes travellers on three-week voyages around Antarctica and South Georgia, from Argentina. Photo / File
Aurora Expeditions cruise ship Greg Mortimer takes travellers on three-week voyages around Antarctica and South Georgia, from Argentina. Photo / File

Originally passengers had three meal options 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 because our cruise should be finished."

Water use on the ship has also been restricted and the sea conditions became rough yesterday, making it hard to stand up.

When asked if there should have been a better plan for a Covid-19 outbreak Graham 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 only on its third voyage, it's very new. And we've got the ability 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."

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, who knows Tina and Graham's wider family, said he was "wracking" his brain to help and had been in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) about the situation.

"It's not easy because Latin America is just somewhere where we don't have a lot of diplomatic staff."

He urged the Government "to be exploring ways to get these 16 off the ship and on to some sort of a flight back to New Zealand".

MFAT said it was helping the New Zealanders on board.

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 our nationals overseas".

Tina said the other Kiwis onboard were from Auckland, Napier, Wellington, and 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 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 our worries".

"I just want to get home, then I will contact insurance and everything else."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website