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Coronavirus Kent: Bearsted couple stranded on Coral Princess cruise ship near America don't know when they'll get home


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A Kent couple are stranded on a cruise ship heading for Florida after being turned away from their original destination of Brazil.

Mick Turnball and his partner - who does not wish to be named - have not been able to alight the ship for two weeks and are unsure when or how they are going to get home to Bearsted, near Maidstone.

Mick Turnball is hoping to get home to Bearsted soon
Mick Turnball is hoping to get home to Bearsted soon

The pair first boarded the Coral Princess on the Chilean coast on Thursday, March 5, along with Mr Turnball's partner's sister and brother-in-law.

Intended as a celebratory birthday trip, the group was still a little apprehensive about leaving amid the beginnings of the coronavirus outbreak.

But Mr Turnball says they were assured by Imagine Cruises - who they booked the trip through - that "everything would be all right" and there was no refund option.

However, just a few days into the holiday, Princess Cruises announced to the 2,000 guests on board - including 400 Brits - that they were putting a 60-day pause on all operations.

Mr Turnball said: "It was annoying because we had tried to cancel but were told we didn't need to, and then just a couple of days later this happens. It was frustrating."

"I'm ready to get off now, another day is a day too many..."

The Coral Princess began missing out stops and then, heading for Buenos Aires, passengers were advised to book flights home from the Argentinian city.

The 57-year-old decided not to, as he was not sure they'd be able to get off, but says many others paid hundreds for tickets, only to be told they were not authorised to leave the ship unless they had an Argentinian passport or a flight booked for that very same day.

Departing several hours later, the Coral then headed for Uruguay, arriving on Saturday, March 21 to get supplies and fuel. This time, no guests were permitted to disembark.

Mr Turnball thought he may be in luck when the crew announced the next destination was Rio - with the ship due to arrive on the day the family had booked flights home to the UK.

Guests with confirmed homeward flights were told they would be allowed to get off the ship and go directly to the airport.

But, despite the efforts of the cruise company, the Brazilian authorities would not allow any passengers to alight.

Mr Turnball said: "Our flight was still available so if we could have just got off the boat we would have been able to get it. I was so convinced we were going to be able to go home.

"That was the worst point for me - I actually felt home sick and upset.

"My partner's mum is elderly and either her or her sister would have probably moved in with her during the lockdown if they'd been home. And her brother-in-law's mum's not been well either, so he's been worried too. "

The dad-of-one who works as a self-employed courier added: "At the end of a two-week holiday you've always had enough and want to get home and now it's been much longer than that. I'm ready to get off now, another day is a day too many."

On the bright side, there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19 on the ship.

And Mr Turnball says the "crew couldn't do any more".

"Everything on board has carried on as normal. There's plenty of food, everything's still open and the crew are carrying on as usual too.

"There are strict cleaning rules - you have to make sure you wash your hands and there is sanitiser at the entrance of the restaurant."

Now heading for Fort Lauderdale, Florida and set to arrive later this week, passengers have been informed the company will be trying to arrange flights home for those on board for when they reach the USA.

Mr Turnball said: "We don't want to get our hopes up but it's something positive at least."

He added: "Many of us have been in touch with our local MPs and the Foreign Office but just get the kind of generic response that they're trying to help and doing everything they can.

"We're all willing to pay for flights - everyone's just desperate to get home."

Another cruise ship, the Grand Princess, owned by the same company, hit the headlines earlier this month after a Dartford grandmother was quarantined to her cabin due to the ship being struck by coronavirus.

Luckily, she is believed to have now been flown home to safety along with the 139 other Brits on board.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We are doing all we can to help British people on board the Coral Princess cruise ship.

"Our staff are in close contact with the cruise operator and the authorities in the region to ensure British people can get home safely."

A Princess Cruises spokesperson added: "Despite our best efforts and those of the UK authorities, Coral Princess has been denied disembarkation in South America.

"As a result the ship will sail directly to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to disembark on April 4.

"We are working hard to help arrange flights home for all guests, who are being kept regularly updated by the captain's announcement and our on-board team.

"There remains no known risk of Covid-19 on-board and our crew are working around the clock to ensure guests' needs are met.

"Internet and telephone service remain complimentary so that guests can stay in touch with family. In this unprecedented situation, we thank our guests and their loved ones for their continued patience and understanding."

Earlier foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced a £75 million effort to fly home tens of thousands of stranded Brits.

Read more: Kent family of eight stranded in India running out of food and medication

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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