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Medford residents stranded on cruise ship

While their friends and neighbors back home are stockpiling necessities and monitoring the news for updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, Medford residents Claudia Dunning and Phil Samuels are stranded aboard the cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse — albeit with free Wi-Fi and complimentary beverage service — waiting to hear when they’ll step foot on dry land again.

One of a dozen cruise ships stranded at sea due to travel restrictions imposed worldwide, the Celebrity Eclipse left Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 1, headed around the Horn to Chile.

Initially on a two-week voyage, the ship was denied entry at its final port of call, in San Antonio, Chile, when an elderly British man on another ship tested positive for coronavirus.

Dunning, 66, and Samuels, 77, left the Rogue Valley Feb. 29 for Buenos Aires, and said they were set to return March 15, a day their ship spent in a virtual standoff with the Chilean government.

While some stranded ships have reported passengers with flu-like symptoms, or even some who have tested positive for COVID-19, Dunning said none of the 2,800 passengers aboard the Eclipse have been reported being sick.

Dunning, who lived in Uruguay from age 10 to 13 — Dunning’s father was a liaison to the Uruguayan Air Force — said chatter about the coronavirus was still pretty minimal when the couple left for their cruise to visit places she had visited during her childhood.

“We heard a little bit about the virus before we left but figured we were going to the “fin del mundo,” the end of the world, so no problems right? Wrong,” said Dunning, who retired to Medford seven years ago with Samuels.

Dunning, who communicated with the Mail Tribune primarily via text, said the trip was “smooth sailing” until they arrived in Chile and were refused entry.

“From 6:35 a.m. Sunday morning through 3 p.m. we were denied entry into Chile. At 3:15, our luggage was returned to our cabins. We have no reported illness or quarantine. Provisions and fuel were supposed to be provided Monday,” Dunning reported.

“At 3:42 p.m. Monday, captain asked for disembarkation forms. At 9:08 p.m., still no go. At 12:25 this morning, the captain “Super Captain Leo,” as he has become known, announced we were going back to Valparaiso, Chile, to get fuel and provisions.

He also announced we would head for San Diego. It will take 10 days minimum.”

Dunning said negotiations between the ship and the outside world included Chilean port authorities, the minister of foreign affairs, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, the U.S. Embassy in Santiago and the Department of State.

By Wednesday night, refueling had been completed and the ship was docked at Valparaiso, set to have provisions loaded throughout the night. Dunning said the couple were more concerned about life after the cruise than their remaining time on the ship as they’ve monitored news reports about the virus.

“There had been no quarantines, no concerns at any port. We got off the ship everywhere we wanted. My favorite was Montevideo, Uruguay, as I’d lived there. The only place we couldn’t get off was the final port of call, San Antonio,” she said.

Dunning said Celebrity Cruise officials were working to ensure the nearly 3,000 passengers would have accommodations to complete their journey home. Passengers hail from various countries and were not all originally planning to complete their trip at the port of San Diego.

As of Wednesday night, a dozen ships around the globe were working to get passengers home and find places to dock. Only some had reports of sick passengers. Guests aboard the Silver Shadow, operated by Silversea and docked in Brazil, reported two guests had been medically disembarked — one testing positive for COVID-19.

Four passengers and one crew member from the MS Braemar, permitted to dock in Cuba Wednesday, tested positive for the virus, and some 20 passengers and 20 crew were isolated due to influenza-like symptoms.

Dunning said passengers aboard the Eclipse were enjoying their final 10 days before joining the rest of the world as it grapples with a new normal.

“We are concerned about coming home, but it’s 10 days out. For now, we are as safe, secure and as comfortable as can be,” she said.

“The energy on board has been amazing. And everyone is so happy to be staying on board rather than going to an airport!”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Medford residents Claudia Dunning and Phil Samuels are stranded aboard the cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse