Canada's former minister of defence Art Eggleton is a passenger and sent an alert to senior government officials about the passenger's plight
A cruise ship with 146 Canadians among its 1,000 passengers is stranded in the Pacific Ocean as ports in South America refuse to let it dock because of COVID-19 fears.
Among the passengers is Art Eggleton, Canada’s former minister of defence and minister for international trade who sent a personal alert to senior officials in Ottawa seeking assistance for the Canadians. Eggleton was a federal cabinet minister under Prime Minister Jean Chretien and also mayor of Toronto for 11 years.
“We’re stranded at sea,” Eggleton said over the phone Monday from aboard the MS Marina, a massive cruise ship with the Oceania line.
“We are at sea and don’t have a destination port yet. There are a lot of people anxious about that.
“We were supposed to, yesterday, dock at Lima, Peru, and this would have been our disembarkation port, but we couldn’t stop. They subsequently tried to go back to a port we had been in previously, near Santiago, Chile, but that was closed as well.”
As he spoke, the Marina was well out at sea, off the coast of Ecuador, heading north in search of a friendly port.
There are no COVID-19 cases on board, he said.
“Right now the ship is heading towards the Panama Canal but we don’t know where after that. We haven’t been advised if there is any port we can go into yet.”
Panama isn’t expected to be a stop, except possibly to refuel, but is a shortcut from the Pacific through to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
The trip aboard the Marina was expected to be an exhilarating cruise around the southern tip of the continent. It began on Feb. 24, departing Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, heading south through the Atlantic.
We are at sea and don’t have a destination port yet. There are a lot of people anxious about that
“When we left home, there were no problems being reported in South America,” said Eggleton. “The only cruise ship issue in the news at the time was the one in Japan. When we headed down there, everything was fine.”
A different cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, had been quarantined in Yokohama after an outbreak of COVID-19 in February.
“In fact, for almost all of the cruise there were no problems whatsoever. We were able to dock in various places and go on land tours,” he said.
The cruise visited the Falkland Islands and travelled around Cape Horn at the southern tip of the continent. There were three stops in Chile. At the end, the itinerary was for the ship to dock in Lima, Peru.
“When we were coming to the end of the cruise, that’s when the doors started to shut, so to speak, in terms of the ports closing,” Eggleton said.
“The ship has gone to extraordinary measures to keep the ship clean. We wash our hands a lot and do all the protocols to ensure we stay healthy.”
But with no cases or signs of COVID-19 aboard, he said, activities have continued and passengers are not confined to cabins — everyone is just being more careful.
Camille Bacchus, Eggleton’s wife, said programming and activities are continuing to make passengers comfortable and the unexpectedly long journey enjoyable.
The uncertainty is unsettling, however.
“Most passengers are pretty upbeat at the moment, just the elderly who are having difficulties with regard to their medication running out,” she said in an email.
“We are trying to keep them calm.”
On Monday afternoon, Oceania confirmed the difficulty with finding a home for the Marina but said it is now headed towards Miami.
“The governments of Peru and Chile both closed their ports to cruise traffic in rapid succession. These closures resulted in us being unable to disembark our Marina guests,” said spokeswoman Alyssa Almeida.
“Marina is now sailing north to the Panama Canal with her ultimate destination being Miami.” Details were still being arranged.
Requests for information from Global Affairs Canada were not returned prior to deadline.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new restrictions on travel to Canada and called on Canadians abroad to come home as soon as possible.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said over the weekend the government will no longer be able to do mass repatriation flights.
“I know this news will spark concern among Canadians travelling abroad. I want to assure you that our government will not leave you unsupported,” Champagne said.
As the Marina is in limbo amid fear of the global health pandemic, at least it doesn’t feel like a prison.
The Marina was purpose built in 2011 and refurbished in 2016 as a premium means of travel with an eye for epicurean passengers. The vessel has a capacity of 1,250 passengers over 11 passenger decks and 800 crew, according to Oceania’s website.
“The ship has been great with wonderful meals and lots of wine,” said Bacchus.
“But I would still prefer coming home.”