A passenger taken from a stranded cruise ship in Uruguay has tested positive for Covid-19, and nine others on board have developed symptoms.

The remaining crew and passengers of the Greg Mortimer, including 16 New Zealanders, are worried if the Uruguayan authorities continue to refuse their ship to dock and let passengers disembark the number of cases could rise drastically.

In a letter to passengers, cruise line Aurora confirmed the guest who tested positive was in a "stable but critical condition". While 106 passengers remain in good health, the letter from MD Robert Halfpenny confirmed among those with symptoms was the ship's doctor who "now has a fever and we are organising a back-up volunteer medic".

Including the ship's doctor, the number of suspected cases had risen by three in 24 hours.


The ship arrived into Montevideo on March 27. Passengers had been in quarantine conditions since March 22.

Focus: How to stop the spread of coronavirus. Video / AP / Mark Mitchell

In spite of this, the Australian-owned cruise company said it was having difficulties working with the respective governments to arrange a way off the ship for passengers.

"We have 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 onboard," read the statement.

The Cartelles on the balcony of their cabin. Photo / Bryan Cartelle
The Cartelles on the balcony of their cabin. Photo / Bryan Cartelle

Among the passengers is New Zealander Bryan Cartelle, who was concerned but in good spirits that there would be a resolution.

"There are plenty of places we'd rather be, but we're aware there are a lot of people trying to help us out," he said.

Passengers went into isolation in cabins on the way up from Antarctica. Argentinian ports had been closed to ships since sailing out of Ushuaia. From Argentina, the Greg Mortimer had continued to Uruguay to find a berth, while monitoring passengers for symptoms.

"We've been temperature checked on a daily basis," said Cartelle, who is sharing a cabin with his wife Heather.

"Confinement anywhere isn't that fun but we were lucky to have an outside deck. Our conditions are not that bad as we have a balcony. There are those without.


Cartelle said it was a trip they'd been planning for years.

Since arrive in Uruguay the possibilities for onward travel and return to New Zealand had only become more difficult.

Part of a possible strategy for getting permission to disembark involves getting test kits to healthy passengers. Aurora said it had been in contact with Atgen-Diagnostica Lab in Montevideo, which is the Uruguay Health Ministry's approved lab for testing.

That effort had been further delayed by bad weather.

"We were hoping to get the tests on board tonight but that was abandoned as the seas are a bit rough," Cartelle said.

"There are a lot of moving pieces; we're just waiting for them all to align.

"Aurora have been fantastic as have both the embassies for Australia and New Zealand, everyone has been doing their best."

"The crew and expedition staff have been outstanding in these challenging times, the Kiwi connection on the boat is strong, we want the testing process to get underway, this will give us direction for the way forward."

If the authorities could stay with that momentum to "keep the parts moving and keep working together" to get testing done and passengers onto flights, Cartelle said the "outcome would be priceless."

The ship had begun asking for medical personnel among passengers to volunteer with the process of testing. However the company had acknowledged this process "will take time".

"We need to assure the Uruguayan Government that we want to keep their community safe as well while we sort out repatriation flights to home countries. Therefore, we must continue quarantine measures," was the initial message to passengers.

MFAT has said it was assisting 16 New Zealanders on board the ship and there was no information to suggest any New Zealander on board was unwell with Covid-19.

"The Covid-19 pandemic is the largest consular response the New Zealand Government has ever undertaken. MFAT staff in Wellington and around the world are responding to unprecedented numbers of inquiries from New Zealanders facing global travel disruptions."

Aurora said it formally escalated its request to dock to the Uruguayan Ministry of Health yesterday.

Testing was due to take place tomorrow morning, after delivery of the tests was delayed because of "inclement weather conditions".

No passengers had been required at this time to help with medical duties.

The company said a request for medical personnel among passengers was "simply to understand options available" and they had adequate medical resources until the tests arrived.

The passenger who tested positive for Covid-19 was in hospital in Uruguay, in "a stable but critical condition" and they "thank the local authorities and hospital staff for the great care they are providing to this passenger".

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