An elderly Kiwi couple on a trans-Atlantic cruise to Europe say the operators are risking their lives by forcing them to disembark in coronavirus-struck Italy.
John Trotman, 80, and Pat Trotman, 75, say they now must risk passage through a country where hundreds of people are dying every day.
Speaking to 1 NEWS on a Facebook video chat set up by a helpful fellow passenger, the Whangarei locals said cruise company Costa had left them “no option”.
“We are extremely stressed, because we do not know, honestly, what is going on,” Mr Trotman said.
“I believe that it is criminal. When you think about it, they are putting us into the epicentre of the worst coronavirus centre in the world.”
The couple were supposed to be on the cruise of a lifetime, travelling from South America to Europe over three weeks aboard the Costa Pacifica, but found themselves trapped as the virus spread.
The cruise has docked at the Italian city of Genoa, with buses lining up to take passengers to Rome, where it’s hoped they will be able to catch flights.
Costa has confirmed in a comment on social media that the ship has stopped at “the last call of its itinerary” and the 2359 guests on board will be required to disembark into Italy.
“Disembarking operations have already started, after the ship has obtained clearance from the maritime authorities,” the comment reads.
“Costa Cruises has organised flights and transfers for direct return of guests to their destinations of origin.”
But for Mr Trotman, who has several underlying conditions including MS, the trip is incredibly risky.
“I've got a pacemaker, I've only got one lung working, I'm a standard classic case of catching it,” he said.
“They had options seven days ago to divert us to Southampton or somewhere else, but they refused to do it, they lied about it, and now they've put us in this position, which could be a death sentence for us.”
Mrs Trotman says she has been unable to sleep throughout the ordeal, with constant worry about being caught up in a country that is struggling to treat many of its patients.
“It's a scary situation, and I'm not usually a stressful person, but I can tell you I'm stressed out.”
Back home, in Christchurch, their daughter Bryanna Madden is worried sick and struggling to get information about what’s happening.
“It is just frightening that if they did get sick in Italy, they're not even going to treat people of that age group,” she says.
“All we can do is wait, and see, and hope like hell that they get off that ship and they make it out of Italy without the virus.”
She's been left to rely on help of Virginia McLean, a British-Australian passenger she found on Facebook while desperately looking for word of her parents.
Ms McLean has been posting messages online asking for help, and doing as much as she can to support the Trotmans.
“It's almost like round the world all of a sudden we've got a support group, that's been set, because it's the only way anyone's getting any information,” Ms McLean said.
The Trotmans are still uncertain about the path ahead, and say while some passengers have been disembarking, they still haven’t been told what is happening to them.
They’re calling on the New Zealand Government to help and say there's no proof the company has purchased flights, leaving a chance they’ll end up stranded in Italy with no way out.
“Please get us home, just come and help us, that's all we want, just to come home.”
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were aware of the situation and the embassy in Rome is providing consular assistance.
They would not comment further on the specific case but described the Covid-19 pandemic as the “largest consular response the New Zealand government has ever undertaken”, with Ministry staff responding to an unprecedented number of enquires from New Zealanders overseas.
”The Government is exploring all possible options to help New Zealand travellers overseas, including the feasibility of assisted departures but there are no guarantees that this will be possible," the Ministry said.