Once the relieved New Zealand and Australian cruise passengers repatriated from the Greg Mortimer, stranded for days in South America, settle into life back home, they may care to reflect on the heroic rescue by Uruguayan authorities.
The successful operation is the subject of immense national pride in Uruguay, the story dominating front pages in the local press over the Easter holiday weekend.
The ship, along with other passenger cruise vessels including the Australian-owned Scenic Eclipse, had been refused permission to berth by other South American nations including Argentina and Chile after borders were suddenly closed due to the pandemic.
Ultimately, only Uruguay proved willing and able to help the 128 passengers and 83 crew from aboard the Bahamas-registered Greg Mortimer, operated by the Australia-based Aurora Expeditions.
Ernesto Talvi, Uruguayan minister for foreign affairs, who worked closely with Australian counterpart Marise Payne on the repatriation mission, declared in La Republica after the aircraft carrying the Greg Mortimer passengers landed in Melbourne early on Sunday morning: “They arrived. Task accomplished.”
Dr Adrian Aguiar, an intern at Montevideo’s British Hospital, wrote at the weekend in El Pais, Uruguay’s main national daily newspaper on Saturday, of the decision to mount the medically perilous mission. “They are not Uruguayans and they are in a foreign-flagged ship, but they are human beings,” he wrote.
Many Uruguayans stayed up into the early hours to watch the live television coverage of the passengers’ departure via a special safe “humanitarian corridor” established by authorities through the streets of Montevideo.
In dramatic footage, a police escort led a motorcade of coaches and ambulances from the dock, where the Greg Mortimer had been berthed, to Carrasco International Airport, where a medically equipped aircraft was waiting on the tarmac.
Most of the Kiwis stranded on the Greg Mortimer cruise ship have arrived back in New Zealand, and will be tested for the virus.
A group of 13 Kiwis arrived in Auckland on Sunday on a medivac flight from Melbourne, chartered by the New Zealand government.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters, in a statement, said the Kiwis “were in a dangerous situation, with very limited options to return, and a huge amount of work went into assisting them to leave Uruguay”.
A total 16 New Zealanders were on the cruise ship.
Ph.: Matilde Campodónico AP