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LI couple stuck on cruise denied port amid virus fears

Marlene and Fred Kantrow of Smithtown aboard the

Marlene and Fred Kantrow of Smithtown aboard the Celebrity Eclipse off the coast of Chile. Credit: Marlene Kantrow

After a “lovely” two-week cruise around the bottom of South America, where they saw coastal glaciers and large colonies of penguins, Fred and Marlene Kantrow said Tuesday they feel rested and ready to return to Smithtown, where they live.

They can’t. At least not right away.

The Long Island couple is among thousands of people stuck on the Celebrity Eclipse, a massive ocean liner that’s been milling for days off the coast of Chile after the country’s government denied its ports to the vessel. Although no passengers are reported to have the new coronavirus, the ship is one of many stuck at sea as countries seal up their borders against the pandemic spreading across the globe.

For the Kantrows, that means an extended vacation of sorts. But between medications running low and uncertainty about their itinerary, it doesn’t quite feel that way.

“I feel like I’m being held hostage on the ship,” said Marlene Kantrow, 59. “It’s kind of scary.”

That’s a stark contrast to the 26 cruises the Kantrows have taken previously, including trips around the Mediterranean and Alaska. The worst Fred Kantrow, an attorney in Huntington, said he’s experienced on a prior cruise was a little bit of rocking near Bermuda decades ago.

The couple mulled the potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on their trip as their departure approached. At that point, the risk seemed low, said Fred Kantrow, 59.

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But in their two weeks at sea, the virus spread rapidly.

On Feb. 29, the date the couple flew from LaGuardia Airport to board the ship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Newsday reported 64 Americans had tested positive for the virus. By Tuesday, the number had surpassed 4,600.

The couple followed news of the virus’ spread as the vessel traveled down the Atlantic coast of South America, passing through the Strait of Magellan before turning north in the Pacific. But the outbreak didn’t impact them personally until early Sunday morning. That’s when they awoke to an announcement over the ship’s intercom that Chile had denied the vessel the right to dock at San Antonio, a port near the capital of Santiago.

“It’s very frightening,” said Marlene Kantrow, a retired New York City teacher. “The whole thought of being stranded off South America was really, really upsetting.”

Representatives of the Consulate General of Chile in New York and Celebrity Cruises did not respond to requests for comment.

The company on Sunday tweeted: “The port of San Antonio, Chile, is now closed to all cruise ships. Celebrity Cruises is working with government officials to provide a controlled debarkation plan that would ensure all guests have travel arrangements to leave the country.”

The day prior, the company announced it would suspend all cruising operations around the world until April 11.

On the Eclipse, days of tension followed.

“There is definitely a mounting sense of anxiety,” said Marlene Kantrow, adding she is running low on thyroid medication and an antibiotic.

Finally, the passengers of the cruise received good news. On Tuesday morning, Celebrity Cruises tweeted: “Local Chilean authorities have given Celebrity Eclipse permission to refuel and load provisions in Valparaiso, Chile. The ship will then sail to San Diego [California], where it was already scheduled and cleared to arrive later this month.”

The Kantrows were relieved at the plan, although it means tacking on an extra 4,700 nautical miles of seafaring to the 2,800 they’ve already completed.

“It’s not a vacation anymore,” Fred Kantrow said. “It’s just a means of transportation.”

It remains to be seen whether the Kantrows will be forced to quarantine once they disembark, as other cruise passengers have had to recently, and what they will find on Long Island when they finally make it back.

“I saw pictures this morning of the ShopRite in Plainview. It looked like a war zone,” Fred Kantrow said.

“We might be better off on this ship in the next two weeks than being on Long Island,” he added. “But I want to come home.”

With The Associated Press

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