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The Norwegian Jewel’s 287 Australian passengers landed in Sydney on a Qantas charter flight from Honolulu, Hawaii this morning.

The charter flight departed Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon after more than a day’s delay, according to Guardian Australia.

The ship arrived in Hawaii on Sunday March 22 and charter flights to bring all passengers home were originally scheduled to fly out on Monday and Tuesday.

Passengers on board the flight back to Australia were given a formal government notice to quarantine on arrival, Guardian Australia reported.

There have been no cases of Covid-19 reported on board the ship.

“Following the order of the Australian Border Force, all guests on these flights are required to enter a 14-day quarantine period upon arrival. There are no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 associated with the ship. Further, all guests underwent enhanced medical screening prior to disembarkation in Honolulu,” says Norwegian Cruise Lines.

The Norwegian Jewel passengers are among the fortunate as the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website claimed about 3,000 Australians remain on ships still at sea.

It has been an emotional rollercoaster for the guests aboard the Norwegian Jewel, which was caught up in the COVID-19 paranoia that led to ports shutting out vessels even when everyone aboard was well.

The Norwegian Jewel left Sydney last month on a 23-day Australia and French Polynesia itinerary. The sailing was scheduled to conclude in Papeete on March 20.

But the ship was turned away from New Zealand and Fiji even though no-one on board was unwell. Even Hawaii said no at first.

At one stage, it was allowed to refuel in American Samoa but passengers weren’t allowed to leave the ship.

The vessel then headed to Honolulu, where Hawaii officials initially said passengers would be allowed to disembark, but changed their minds after threats to block the ship from local residents.

On Sunday March 22, Hawaii officials relented. The cruise line has chartered at least 10 flights to locations including, Sydney, London and Los Angeles, Tim Sakahara, spokesman for Hawaii’s Department of Transportation told the local Star Advertiser.

But in one last twist, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the plane carrying the Australian contingent was delayed.

Before leaving the ship, passengers were screened by cruise line doctors. Then, according to the Star Advertiser,  they went through thermal screening.

“So far there haven’t been any symptomatic passengers at this point,” Mr Sakahara said.

Approximately 1,000 crew members will remain aboard.

“We are so very thankful to our Hawaiian partners and friends…for their assistance in developing a coordinated disembarkation plan which keeps both guests and Hawaii residents safe and secure,” said Harry Sommer, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Norwegian Jewel is the last vessel in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet with guests aboard at sea.

Meanwhile, Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen, which has more than 100 Australian doctors and dentists on board,  has also made arrangements to disembark in Stanley Falkland Islands in the coming days.

“Through an agreement with the local authorities on the Falkland Islands, we are committed to getting our guests back home safely and efficiently with flights from Stanley within a few days,” says the line.

“There have not been any confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 on any Hurtigruten ships, including MS Roald Amundsen. There are no guests or crew showing any symptoms on board MS Roald Amundsen. The ship, her guests and crew have been on an Antarctica cruise since the end of February – probably as far away from any possible source of infection.

“Last week, Chilean authorities closed their borders to planes, busses, trains and ships – for all foreign nationals. That’s why Hurtigruten, like everyone else, is now working on alternative travel arrangements for our guests originally planned to disembark in Chile.

“Over the past weeks, Hurtigruten has helped thousands of guests safely home. Travel restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak are making all travel more complex. We are confident that we will get everyone on MS Roald Amundsen home as well – in a timely manner considering the travel restrictions and other circumstances caused by the coronavirus outbreak.”

However, Holland America Line’s Zaandam which was also left stranded by Chile’s closed borders is still working out how to disembark their passengers safely.

The Zaandam which has 101 Australians on board is still currently proceeding to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for arrival on March 30. However, the line still working on securing a reservation to transit the Panama Canal. Alternative options are also being developed.

On Sunday March 22, the line reported there were 13 guests and 29 crew on board with influenza-like symptoms. The numbers of people with influenza-like symptoms have now risen to 30 guests and 47 crew, on March 24.

All affected people on board are asked to remain in their staterooms as the Zaandam awaits the arrival of Rotterdam to pass on extra supplies, staff, COVID-19 test kits and other support as needed.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have now asked all guests to remain in their staterooms until we have more information. There are 1,243 guests and 586 crew on board. Since it is flu season, and COVID-19 testing is not available on board, it is difficult to determine the cause of these elevated cases at this time,” says the line in a statement.

“Since all ports along Zaandam’s route are closed to cruise ships, Holland America Line has deployed Rotterdam to rendevous with Zaandam and provide extra supplies, staff, COVID-19 test kits and other support as needed. Carrying 611 crew and no guests, Rotterdam departed Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, at 3 p.m. local time on March 22 and the current schedule is for the two ships to meet by the evening of March 26 off the coast of Panama.”

Zaandam was sailing a South America voyage that departed Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was originally scheduled to end in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21.

“However, due to global health concerns, Holland America Line made the decision to suspend its global cruise operations for 30 days and end its current cruises in progress as quickly as possible and return guests home,” says the line in a statement.

“Despite previous confirmations that guests could disembark in Punta Arenas, Chile, for flights, we were not permitted to do so. No one has been off the ship since March 14 in Punta Arenas.

Zaandam then sailed to Valparaiso, Chile, where it remained at anchor March 20-21 while taking on provisions and fuel, including regular medications for those that needed them.”

 

Azamara Pursuit with 59 Australians on board is also currently off the coast of Valparaiso, Chile and will soon be heading towards Miami for disembarkation, according to the line. The ship is using a crane to get vital supplies on board at the moment.

“Azamara’s key objective is to disembark all guests and help them return home safely. Azamara Pursuit is currently off the coast of Chile and will soon be heading towards Miami. As far as the guests and crew still currently onboard our ships, all preventative measures and CDC requirements are in place to ensure their health and safety. We thank our crew and staff for going above and beyond in a very fluid situation to prepare and make all of our onboard guests feel safe and comfortable,” says the line.

Australia travel company Chimu Adventures are also in discussions with DFAT about sending a plan to Peru to pick up more passengers. The pick up is scheduled to pick up the Australians on Friday.

There is also a second flight set to rescue around 150 Australians who have been stuck on the Ocean Atlantic cruise ship, another one of Chimu’s vessels. The company is working with DFAT and the Argentinian government to evacuate the passengers.

But the company still has not received approval for the cruise ship to dock in Buenos Aires so passengers can disembark and head straight to the airport.

“About 3,000 Australians are still on cruise ships all over the world. We’re tracking more than 30 cruise ships, and working with cruise operators, governments and likeminded countries to help Australians on cruise ships return home safely as soon as possible,” Smartraveller writes on their Twitter account on Sunday March 22.

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