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Aussies stuck off Uruguay coast home-bound

More than 100 Australian and New Zealand residents aboard a Antarctica cruise liner anchored off the coast of Uruguay are expected to fly into Melbourne over Easter.

Aurora Expeditions, the operator of the coronavirus-plagued Greg Mortimer ship, has chartered an evacuation flight from Uruguayan capital Montevideo which is scheduled to arrive in Australia on Sunday.

“Our priority remains getting everyone on board disembarked as soon and as safely as possible,” a company spokesman said in a statement on Friday.

“It has been a very harrowing time for all involved.”

Of the more than 200 people on the vessel, 96 are Australian passengers and crew, and roughly 16 are New Zealand citizens.

The ship’s operator confirmed this week 128 of 217 people on board – nearly 60 per cent – had tested positive for the coronavirus but all were asymptomatic.

However, the foreign affairs department told AAP five Australians have been evacuated from the Greg Mortimer and hospitalised in Montevideo.

Uruguay’s foreign ministry said those remaining on the ship would be bussed to the airport, escorted by local police.

Medical personnel would also accompany them on the repatriation flight, with the company footing the bill for the journey under insurance.

“The plane will be set up into risk zones, with passengers seated by test results and level of care required by passenger,” Aurora Expeditions said.

Once in Melbourne, the returned travellers will be moved to a facility to serve their mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

The NZ government plans to reach out to its citizens directly to organise a transfer upon arrival in Australia, Aurora Expeditions said.

The Greg Mortimer departed on March 15 on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia but has been docked off the coast of Montevideo for multiple weeks.

Meanwhile, 280 Australians and four New Zealanders were scheduled to arrive in Melbourne on Friday on a DFAT-arranged flight from Peru.

Another Australian-bound commercial flight from Peru is scheduled to leave Lima on Monday, with others from Buenos Aires and Johannesburg to be confirmed in the coming days.

More than 280,000 Australians have returned home in recent weeks, with some 6200 of those people disembarking from 45 cruise ships around the world.

With DPA

Originally published as Aussies stuck off Uruguay coast home-bound

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