Desperate relatives of around 250 Aussies trapped on a cruise ship near the heart of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak are begging the government to intervene.
The Costa Victoria set sail last month on a 28-day cruise and passengers have been unable to disembark since March 12 because of coronavirus fears.
Operator Costa Cruises has confirmed the ship will sail into Venice next week. Once docked, the passengers will be “advised” to leave the ship.
Family members say no coronavirus cases have been recorded on board, but fear that could change after passengers — many of them elderly or vulnerable due to underlying medical issues — set foot in Italy, where the outbreak is out of control.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy is hurtling towards the 60,000 mark and the death toll is almost 3500, exceeding China’s by almost 2000.
Charine Bennett, whose mother is on the ship, has organised a petition calling on the Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne to parachute Australians back home.
“Our elderly Mum and over 240 other Aussies are on the cruise ship, Costa Victoria, in the Mediterranean,” Ms Bennett said.
“(The) Costa cruise company says they are taking them to Venice on 28 March. There are no current arrangements for whether or how they can get off the ship and get home.
“No cases of coronavirus have been reported to the passengers. The 28 day cruise started in February and passengers haven’t been able to disembark since 12 March so they will all have been held away from others for more than 14 days.
“There are a significant number of elderly people and passengers with other vulnerabilities (cancer or immune challenging conditions).
“Arrangements for safe transfer and travel home cannot be left to passengers to arrange or done without involvement from the Australian Government. They can’t be left in Italy (even if Italy would allow it).”
The petition, which has been signed by more than 700 people in just 24 hours, calls on the Australian Government to work with Costa Cruises and the Italian Government to arrange the safe transfer of Australians off the ship; a chartered flight to bring them home; and the testing of all passengers for coronavirus.
Among those languishing on the Costa Victoria are Joanne Martin-Blakey and her husband Iain, from the Gold Coast.
“We are being forced into the epicentre of COVID-19, and we are all healthy on this ship but are now being put at risk,” Ms Martin-Blakey said last week in an online post.
“Australia is about to close its borders and we can’t get home and we have no knowledge of what will happen to us when we get to Italy.”
There are at least 35 cruise ships around the globe in limbo with Australians on-board following the introduction of tough new travel restrictions to combat coronavirus.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said assistance was being offered to Aussies caught up in the crisis.
“DFAT has offered consular support to those Australians, if required,” a spokesperson said