The Dunkirk spirit was invoked by the coronavirus crisis, when a small 25-cabin cruise yacht helped 19 Cuban crew from a mega cruise ship return to their homeland.
Variety Cruises’ vessel Panorama made a special 14-day diversion in the Caribbean to repatriate the group from MSC Preziosa. Panorama’s captain Vasilis Mazarkis came across the plight of the Cubans when his ship called into Barbados to refuel ahead of a transatlantic crossing after a winter season spent cruising off the coast of Costa Rica and Panama.
Panorama was empty other than her crew. She berthed near MSC Preziosa, a super-sized cruise ship that carries up to 4,360 passengers and 1,300 crew. Nineteen healthy staff were keen to return home but given the constraints of Covid-19, had no realistic option for doing so.
Following a request from the Cuban government, Mazarkis agreed to repatriate them to Havana, a journey which took the cruise yacht seven days. The Cuban government covered the cost of the fuel but Variety Cruises made no other charge for their brotherly act. Health declarations were provided by the Captain of MSC Preziosa and the Barbadian medical authorities, and the new passengers were thermo-scanned prior to boarding and on every subsequent day of the journey.
After disembarking his charges in Havana on April 4, Mazarkis said: “During these difficult times we are facing, it is important to help each other. Knowing that we were helping fellow seafarers by getting them back to their families makes us all happy. We wish and hope that all stranded crew and passengers alike manage to get home to their loved ones and that the world will return to normal soon.”
The Cuban crew members signed a handwritten note to their rescuers, which said: “Despite the rough seas, we always felt protected. During this trip, we have sung, celebrated birthdays, laughed and enjoyed every moment together as a family. There was never a dull moment. It has been an incredible and unforgettable experience. We thank the captain and his crew for taking us in and helping us to get home during these exceptional times. We will always carry you in our hearts.”
Panorama is now making the seven-day return journey to Barbados and then she will head to Athens. She was meant to spend the summer cruising in the Med, but Variety Cruises has suspended their operations in line with the rest of the industry. There, according to Variety Cruises UK managing director Chris Lorenzo, she will be put at the disposal of the Greek authorities:
“Whilst Greece is relatively Covid-19 free at the moment, the fact is that it is a nation of islands, many of which are accessed only via tiny harbours, where urgent medical attention cannot always be accessed. As such we are offering our vessels to the Greek authorities for the immediate future.”