Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Celebrity Eclipse Passengers Held Hostage By Chile

Stranded on the ocean in a luxury cruise ship, what is there not to like? Well for the more than 1800 Americans aboard Celebrity's Eclipse the long strange trip has become just a little too much like Groundhog Day.

The ship was supposed to dock in San Antonio Chile Sunday, but was rejected at the last minute due to the Coronavirus. After 48 hours of fruitless negotiations with the government of Chile most notably the nation's health minister the ship must now sail north to the United States.

The Celebrity Eclipse, with almost 4,000 people on board between passengers and crew, is currently detained near Valparaíso, where they are not allowed to dock or disembark due to the Coronavirus pandemic, despite not having any suspected cases of the Coronavirus aboard.

A luxury floating hotel, Celebrity Cruise Line is often considered in the upper tier of cruising. Many passengers have paid upwards of $5,000.00 each for the two week trip and that doesn't included the airfare for the 10 hour flight from Charlotte to Bueno Aries for the ship's departure and the Santiago Chile return.

The typical trip consists of docking, touring a city and continuing the journey by ship from port to port until stopping for the last time. Unless there is some unforeseen event, such as a global pandemic with more than 200,000 confirmed cases and 8,000 deaths worldwide that causes a state of total panic, with both  preventive and mandatory quarantines.

It is clear from social media that the Chilean government has given in to a sort of populism response with little or no scientific logic and so that is the situation that passengers on the Celebrity Eclipse cruise ship are experiencing right now. Held for ransome based on the fears of the general populance of Chile.

In short the fragile government of Sebastian Pinera has caved to panic and hysteria. The endless civil unrest aside the national unemploument rate is near 50% and now thanks to the CoronaVirus and their treatment of cruiseship passengers if my never recover.

In the past two weeks as the ship and her passengers passed through Montevideo and Punta del Este Argentina all passengers were healthy and showed no signs of the illness that has swept the world. They have also made stops in Puerto Madryn, Cabo de Hornos and Ushuaia. More recently Punta Arenas, the Strait of Magellan, the Chilean fjords and Puerto Montt. All locations with zero reports of the Coronavirus. 

But on March 15 around 5 in the morning, when the ship arrived in San Antonio, Chile the last stop of the 2 week journey the captain was informed that they would not be allowed to dock. The night before the passengers had already surrendered their suitcases for transport to the airport in Santiago for their respective flights home.

With passengers preparing to disembark, not only did the port workers refuse to allow the ship to dock, but the Chilean government decided to close all borders to foreigners after cases of the Coronavirus in Chiley went from 75 to 155 in just 24 hours. 

Thus it was that the Celebrity Eclipse, with almost 4 thousand people on board - between 2,650 passengers and 1,221 crew - that they became a pawn in hours of negations and became stranded for three days while circling the Chilean waters, not far from the coast. 

You might wonder why not just anchor? Well the pacific swells along the coast of Chile are pretty big caused in part from the sudden rise of the sea floor along the Chilean coast. This makes for dramatic scenery but also a wild ride at anchor in all but a few protected ports. 

So the Eclipse began a NASCAR Circuit of turn left at about 6-7 knots which is enough to make use of the ship's massive stabilizers. 

In what amounted to piracy and hostage taking the Chilean government demanded payment from the cruise line that was reported to be in the millions in order to provide for security at the dock and to transport the passengers 70 miles to the airport in Santiago Chile for their flights home.

Their excuse was the safety of the passengers. Which could be a concern since the government has been besieged with ongoing violent protests regarding austerity measures and subway fare hikes since last year. 

When negations broke down the ship finally agreed to head north 100 miles to Valparaíso to stock up on food and fuel, in a more protected commercial anchorage at anchor where the ship is still being detained at this time. (Wednesday 5:00 EST).

In Valparasio, the Sebastián Piñera government of Chile has allowed the 65 Chilean passengers on the cruise ship to get off via a pilot boat and return to their homes in Chile, where they must comply with a mandatory 14 day self-quarantine.

Currently Celebrity Cruise Line has decided that the ship will continue on sailing for 10 days and take all the remaining passengers to San Diego.

Luciana Rossi is 73 years old, hails from Mar del Plata in Argentina and is one of the people who on March 1 left on the ship with three other friends on a trip around Uruguay, Argentina and Chile through the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.

Eclipse is 315 meters long (1033 feet) and 122 thousand ton luxury cruise ship, with capacity for almost 3 thousand passengers and a wide range of activities, a spa, 11 restaurants and up to four pools.

“It is a very beautiful boat with excellent service. The landscape of the Argentinean and Chilean South seemed beautiful to us, Ushuaia is beautiful, the whole trip was very nice… except this, ”Luciana says with resignation via a post on WhatsApp, which she accesses thanks to the fact that while on the cruise they can access free wifi and computers with internet access.

“For us and for many other Latin Americans and Europeans here, it means a great upheaval to go to California. Because by docking in San Antonio we were only two and a half hours from Buenos Aires, but now we have to sail for 10 days and then start back, ”she says, concerned about the journey of more than a week that they still have left and the uncertainty of what will happen when they arrive in the US. 

The majority of passengers who are not Americans do not have an automatic visa to enter the US. But according to the US Department of State that will not be a issue for traveler just transiting the area between the cruise ship terminal and airport.

In addition to the Argentine passengers - there are approximately 66 - there are also Bolivians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Peruvians and Cubans, as well as Europeans and Americans. 

"Logically, nobody has to have a visa, because the destination was never the United States," she says. "The company tells us that they are going to take care of the return process, but we don't know what that will be like there. This is day by day ”.

Another problem is the supply of the ship. Despite the fact that there are young people, the average age of the passengers is closer to 60 with dozens well into their 80s, many of them with pre-existing illnesses, who expressed concern about not having the necessary medication for the days that the trip to San Diego will take.

In the couple of days, Luciana says, the crew asked them for information through a series of questionnaires regarding the medications they need and were assured that the necessary medications would be provided.

In perhaps a moment of national pride the Chilean "Tall Ship" Esmeralda sailed past the anchored Ecpise at midday. The display of ergorance or innonce was not missed by most of the passengers aboard the hostage vessel. 

Unlike other stranded cruises in the world, there are no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Celebrity Eclipse as of yet. “We are many people but we are all healthy. That is why there is so much anger because the Chilean government did not even have the decency to send a health team aboard to check us" she complains.

The ship now hopes to finish loading supplies sometime on Wednesday March 18, 2020 and receive authorization to leave for the United States.

However, the ship's captain - the only source of information for passengers - has already informed them that for logistical reasons, supply is slowing down. This is in part because the Chilean government would not allow the ship to dock in the port of Valparaíso, so the supply of food, medicine and fuel must be ferried via small boats that come alongside the 1000 foot ship.

But progress is slow in part to the small size vessel the Chilean goverment has authorized to bring the provisons to the boat. Had the ship been allowed dock alongside the "quay" in either San Antiono or Valparasio the process would have been completed in about 12 hours.

As of 8:30 AST on Wednesday March 18, 2020 the provisioning continues. 

Once in San Diego, only the passengers will get off and they still don't know what will happen to the crew. Relatives and friends of all the people aboard the Celebrity have already set up a group on social networks to share the information that comes to them from the boat and keep abreast of the situation.

Meanwhile, while the weather outside the ship is pleasant enough the weather inside the cruise isn't party-time, though it hasn't quite turned to despair yet. 

There is concern, but the passengers hope that after the long journey they have ahead, once they are ashore in California they can return to their homes quickly. 

“Despite everything, we are very well cared for and contained. The attention is still excellent. Most of us are big people, with greater difficulties or not, but all healthy ”, Luciana assures calmly. “There are still a lot of people using the gym and even the pool. What can we do? This has already been decided. Hopefully we can return from the place that they disembark us as easy as possible ”.

Cedar Update 15:27UTC 19 March, 2020 (Day 20/15):

As of 12:53 UTC Celebrity Eclipse remained at anchor in the commercial anchorage just off the shore of Valparaiso, Chile.  This morning about an hour ago the tanker Don Pancho pulled along the starboard side and again began fueling operations.

According to Captain Leo they are also waiting on medical supplies as they have only received 1/2 of what has been requested.

The oiler Don Pancho returned again bunkering fuel and departed just before 15:00 UTC.

Celebrity has remained silent their last update was Tuesday morning. 

They have however continued an ongoing social media Bot campaign posting cheery stories of life aboard the Eclipse.  Well perhaps so there are worse places to be stuck and since none of the passengers are showing signs of the Coronavirus no one is confined to their staterooms. But with zero followers this bogus claims are in such poor taste. There's a limit of 10 pieces of laundry every four days. Celebrity's ships do not offer coin laundries that you find on most ships of this size.

Now on day 20 of the 15 day adventure the ship is still stuck in limbo as Chile seems intent on dragging the re-fueling and provisioning process out as long as possible .


Anonymous said...

Who is the Freedom Officer with the unintelligible Newwww Yalk accent that is rude to us in communications? He needs speaking lessons and learn how to talk on radio. Also calls for service are not called “jobs”! YOU ARE NOT WITH NYPD ANYMORE! And no NYPD experience DOES NOT IMPRESS ANYONE!

Unknown said...

Sorry if I offended anyone at communications that was never my intent. Sorry for the way I talk and the things I say they are just ingrained in this old brain.I have nothing but respect for the endless thankless job that you all do. As an old officer I realize the great stress and pressure that you all have placed on you every day. I AM THANKFUL FOR YOU ALL AND PLEASE ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT. Just to let you know I have been trying to change my words on the radio I already have given up one under to 1072. I will try to do better in the future. Please feel free to call me at 704 614 0604 my name is Chomicki. Please stay safe

Anonymous said...

Class act 2:38. 👍🏻👍🏻