It was supposed to be a 14-day cruise, a voyage around South America’s Cape Horn from the Atlantic Ocean over to the Pacific near the bottom of the world.
Just a little late winter’s getaway before Gary McKillips’ sports reporting schedule for the Associated Press radio would make vacations impossible. But the coronavirus pandemic interrupted that plan. And now, nearly four weeks after their cruise began, McKillips, his wife Anne and thousands of other passengers and crew aboard the Celebrity Eclipse still aren’t home.
The captain has told passengers that there are no cases of the coronavirus aboard the Eclipse, McKillips told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in interviews via video and text messaging. But fears of the virus, which has stricken other ships, were cited by South American governments to deny the Eclipse entry to ports.
McKillips said he and his wife have read about what happened aboard other ships, and they know they’re fortunate.
The Diamond Princess and Grand Princess were among the luxury cruise ships hit hard by cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Some 500 Grand Princess passengers were held in quarantine at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County after that ship made port in California.
Two passengers on the Costa Luminosa died from COVID-19, the New York Times reported. Hundreds of passengers, some of whom later became sick, connected through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the AJC previously reported. And four passengers aboard the Holland America ship Zaandam have died, according to the Times.
McKillips said the Eclipse, which holds 2,850 passengers, should arrive in San Diego Monday morning, and the Buckhead couple should be home later that night. The cruise line is picking up the tab for their flight.
“Morale still good,” McKillips, 75, said in a text message.
The couple boarded the ship March 1 and the vessel departed port in Argentina the following day. All was normal until the ship rounded Cape Horn.
“We started heading to Chile and that’s where our problems began,” McKillips said. The Eclipse was supposed to make a few stops and then arrive in port at San Antonio, Chile, where the couple said they were scheduled to disembark and later fly home from the capital city of Santiago.
“Then we got word late that night we weren’t going to go anywhere,” McKillips said. “The Chilean government did not allow us to enter the port.”
Soon, the cruise line, its parent company and the U.S. government started negotiations, McKillips said the captain told passengers. Their travel agent contacted the offices of U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who also contacted the Chilean government.
A spokeswoman for the Celebrity cruise line did not respond to a request for comment.
Ultimately, the ship was allowed to enter a Chilean port for fuel and provisions, but passengers were not permitted to disembark. The captain informed passengers the Eclipse would instead sail for 10 days across the equator and all the way to San Diego, McKillips said.
One person, who suffered a medical emergency, and their spouse were allowed to leave the ship for care in Ecuador, he said.
McKillips credited Celebrity’s handling of the situation. The ship remained immaculate, he said, and passengers have been well cared for.
“They’re going overboard,” he said, “so to speak.”
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