Dozens of Australian passengers onboard an international cruise ship have aborted the vessel in lifeboats as they make the mad dash home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ship, MV Columbus – owned by Cruise and Maritime Voyages – has hundreds of Australians onboard after recent stops in Sydney, Cairns and Darwin.

The ship, which can carry 1,400 passengers, was this week ordered to curtail its world cruise and sail back to its original port in Tilbury, England.

Passengers were given the choice to spend the next four weeks at sea while the ship makes its way back to England, or to join a nearby Australian cruise ship bound for its point of origin in Fremantle, Western Australia.

According to a passenger who spoke to, 178 people elected to leave the international ship after arriving off Phuket Island and join the Vasco De Gama in Thailand on Wednesday, local time.

Sixty seven European and British passengers on the Australian vessel made the switch to the Columbus. In spectacular scenes, the passenger exchange was carried out by a fleet of lifeboats over a full day.

“We have almost four weeks sailing back to London, while they will take only 10 days to sail back to Australia, so we will be getting some of their supplies,” the source said.

But despite the disruption to their travel plans, the mood among passengers remained calmed, according to the source.

“We chatted to some Australians last night who were leaving and they were very philosophical,” he said.

“No panic, no anger….just a bit sad that they missed the Great Wall of China, the pyramids, the valley of the Kings, and so on.”

Another passenger, Tecwyn Vaughan Jones, who lectured at the American College in Bangor, told British media there was concern among some passengers about the people being transferred to the Australian-bound ship potentially having the virus.

“Our ship will be totally full then and current passengers are scared these new passengers might bring the virus on board,” he said.