Hundreds of Australians are on a cruise ship about to dock in the virus epicentre, Italy


More than 200 Australians off the coast of Italy have been given the choice of staying on a potentially virus-laden cruise ship or walking ashore into what is now the world’s most deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Key points:

  • The Costa Victoria cruise ship will dock at Civitavecchia, west of Rome
  • There are also 70 Australians onboard the Azamara Pursuit cruise ship heading for Miami
  • An investigation on the Diamond Princess cruise ship found traces of coronavirus lasted on cabin surfaces for 17 days after passengers left

The Costa Victoria will dock at a port west of Rome after searching for a place that would accept them.

Around the world, 3,000 Australians are stranded on 25 cruise ships because countries have shut their borders due to coronavirus.

Retired teachers Julie Turnbull and Maria Manera are among the 1,500 passengers and crew on board the Costa Victoria, which has recorded one case of coronavirus.

“All the Australians I’ve spoken to on board have expressed their concern about landing in Italy because of the high rate of infections and deaths in Italy,” Ms Manera told 7.30.

Ms Turnbull and Ms Manera told 7.30 they have no idea what will happen when they arrive in Italy and said the cruise ship still had their passports.


Julie Turnbull is concerned about landing in Italy. (Supplied: Julie Turnbull)

They fear becoming sick on the ship or in Italy.

A few days after boarding the Costa Victoria, they became aware that the ship was unable to dock at various ports.


A lifebuoy on the cruise ship Costa Victoria. (Supplied: Julie Turnbull)

“It became clear that there was going to be problems because they cancelled the first stop in the Maldives. That happened because the Maldivian Government just wouldn’t let the ship in, so we started to worry a lot about what was going to happen after that,” Ms Turnbull said.

Earlier this week, the cruise ship company Costa Cruises revealed that an Argentinian passenger who left the ship in Crete on March 22 had tested positive to COVID-19.

Passengers were then isolated to their rooms.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it is monitoring the ship’s plan to disembark passengers at Civitavecchia.

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Virus survives on cabin surfaces for 17 days


The Diamond Princess cruise ship when it was quarantined in Japan. (Reuters: Athit Perawongmetha)

Australians on board eight cruise ships have told 7.30 they are nervous and scared about being trapped and feeling uncertain about how they will return to Australia if they disembark.

Those ships include the Costa Victoria, MSC Fantasia, Ocean Atlantic, Norwegian Princess, Norwegian Jewel, Maasdam, Azamara Pursuit, and MS Roald Amundsen.

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The closed cruise ship environment combined with large numbers of international travellers allows viruses to flourish.

In the case of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan last month, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that traces of coronavirus lasted on cabin surfaces for 17 days after all 3,700 passengers were evacuated.

While it was not clear if transmission occurred through surfaces, the investigation showed the virus was stubborn.

Many of the passengers would have also been unaware they were infected or aware that others on the ship were sick.

Of the 712 positive cases on board the Diamond Princess, nearly half showed no symptoms at the time they were tested.

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Families worried about elderly Australians


Helen and Eddie Pawlowitsch on the Azamara Pursuit cruise ship. (Supplied)

Another ship, the Azamara Pursuit, is currently off the west coast of South America.

Seventy Australians are on board including Helen Pawlowitsch, 75, and her husband Eddie, 78, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on the ship.

The ship was unable to dock in Chile.

“When we left Perth on the 29th of February, there was no indication at all that there were any problems in South America,” Ms Pawlowitsch said.

The ship has been diverted to the US city of Miami, but the couple was worried about what awaits them.

It is feared the US may surpass Italy in becoming the world’s worst coronavirus hotspot.

“Flights are starting to cancel. We want to get back to Australia and see our loved ones, and at the moment it seems like a bit of a nightmare,” she said.

Their son, Peter Pawlowitsch, said he would pay any amount to get his parents home.

“When you’re in bed at night your mind does start to wander to the what-if scenarios — what if you can’t bring them home? What could happen? What if they get stuck in America? We’re seeing the numbers in America with this virus are just astronomical,” he said.

“You know Mum and Dad are elderly, they’ve had some [health] conditions, they are seriously at risk.”