40 SA passengers left stranded in isolation on luxury ship in Italy due to Covid-19

Cape Town – Forty South African are being kept in isolation in their cabins on an Italian luxury cruise liner amid a Covid-19 outbreak on the vessel.

The Costa Luminosa docked at the port of Savona, Italy, on Saturday morning after shedding coronavirus victims at three ports on a trans-Atlantic voyage.

The ship was denied entry at two ports, Antigua and in Spain. All non-Italian passengers were assured that plans for their flights back home, on Friday, were in place. Canadian, US, Austrian and German passengers were allowed to disembark on Friday. But not the South Africans.

It is believed the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) is still in talks with the Italian authorities.

The wait for the families of the mostly elderly South African holidaymakers has been an anxious one.

Some concerned family members posted SOS messages on social media, hoping for the release of their loved ones.

One post on Facebook said the ship’s isolated passengers were being “fed like animals in a cage”.

Adding to the families’ angst is that the travel agent which organised the trip from Fort Lauderdale in the US to Savona is reportedly not providing feedback on the South Africans.

The voyage on the Costa Luminosa, which can house more than 2800 guests and is manned by a crew of 1050, began on February 24.

Five days later a passenger disembarked on the Cayman Islands and subsequently died, later proving positive for the coronavirus.

But this was not communicated to the passengers. Two sick people also left the ship in Puerto Rico on March 8. The ship’s handlers apparently did not confirm to passengers that this was due to Covid-19. Instead, passengers were told that test results were inconclusive.

However, passengers were placed in isolation in their cabins from March 14 and had their temperatures checked at least twice a day.

All access to entertainment, media, TV and the internet was cut off, but later reconnected to WhatsApp to send and receive messages only.

Mike Hiron, 64, of Glenwood, Durban, on board the Costa Luminosa with his wife, Kim, 54, said communication from the ship has been challenging.

Hiron said he knew of about 38 other South Africans on board.

While they were being confined to cabins, there was no shortage of food or water, he said.

A total of 1461 passengers began the journey and 639 disembarked in Marseilles, France, on Thursday – the stop before Savona.

“We had been advised that we were going to be disembarked and were even given flight details,” said Hiron.

“We then heard that the US made an agreement to get priority and they were sent back on a charter flight to Atlanta paid for by their government.

“We were then told that we would be disembarked in Savona on Saturday, but we then heard that the Italians are being tested, which means they were being prepared for disembarking.”

Robyn Terbrugge’s parents, Paul, 70, and Sue, 68, Kloeck, of Johannesburg, are also on-board. “The crew knew the coronavirus was on board. They just didn’t want to give the passengers the option to leave,” she said.

Sharon Simmons, customer service representative at Imagine Cruising, said nobody would be disembarking soon: “We need to get permission from the Italian government. Now that the government has been shut down, our hands are tied,” she said.

Alfred Pietersen’s in-laws, Ivan, 75, and Pamela, 71, Carr, of Cape Town, are also stuck on the luxury liner.

“My father-in-law wanted to cancel the trip when the coronavirus outbreak began. The cruise organisers reassured them that they had taken the necessary precautions. But now they’re stuck.”

Lunga Ngqengelele, media liaison officer for Dirco, said there were no decisions in place to repatriate the South African citizens aboard the Costa Luminosa.

“We are speaking to Italian authorities to see what form of assistance we can provide to our citizens. However, the final decision is in the hands of the Italian authorities,” he said.

According to a Reuters report, 36 people on board were infected with the coronavirus when tests were undertaken on disembarking passengers in Marseilles.

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