"It was an invitation to disaster"

From Medellín, he traveled to Ushuaia for one more job as a medical officer aboard a cruise ship, but when the COVID-19 arrived at the Greg Mortimer, he had to act quickly, assisted everyone as he could, and became infected. After being hospitalized, he confesses that the trip "was an invitation to disaster."

Back in his cabin aboard the Greg Mortimer, a cruise ship that captured the attention of the international press by being stranded 20 kilometers from Montevideo with a large part of its passengers affected, the Colombian Mauricio Usme is serene and questions why the company decided go ahead with the journey.

In dialogue with Efe, despite the difficulties posed by the internet connection on the ship - which already only has its crew on board, since the passengers were repatriated to their respective countries -, Usme recounts the journey that began when he embarked on the cruise ship Greg Mortimer, from the Australian company Aurora Expeditions, on December 18, 2019 in Ushuaia (Argentina).


For the 46-year-old Colombian, a doctor specializing in Emergency Medicine from the University of Antioquia in 2000, the experience of boarding a cruise ship as a medical officer on board was not new.

Usme, who since 2017 has worked on 3,500 passenger cruises of the Carnival Cruise Line, with trips through Australia, the United States and the Caribbean, thought that this would be another route and that on May 5, from Cartagena (Colombia), would come home.

However, when he learned that the Greg Mortimer, a 104-meter-long cruise ship with an average capacity of 126 passengers, which was scheduled to travel through Antarctica and the South Georgia Islands, was going to sail, despite the health recommendations following the COVID-19 pandemic began to worry.

"We arrived in Ushuaia on March 15 convinced that we were not going to have more trips because the recommendations of the World Health Organization, of the governments, was to stop all trips, disembark passengers and be 'stand by' (waiting )", it states.

As a result, the medical officer says it was a surprise when passengers from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and some European countries who, although asymptomatic, may have contracted the disease, embarked that day.

"It was an invitation to disaster. That was a trip that should never have been made, that trip should have been canceled from before. We do not know how these people were able to pass the filters of the different countries," emphasizes Usme.

When on March 22 one of the passengers started having a fever, the Colombian doctor activated the isolation protocol in the cabins, but the situation was difficult.

"The ship had to continue operating with the people who distribute the food and the engineering people; then there was a flow of people who became asymptomatic carriers and spread the virus," he says.

During this period, Usme was in charge of monitoring everyone's temperature and detecting patients at risk. There were "many people over the age of 60, some asthmatics and diabetics," he says.

According to the doctor, although the ship has a healthcare center with good equipment, the means of protection to prevent the spread were not sufficient and, when it began to register cases of pneumonia, assistance was needed.

On March 31, the cruise ship, which did not obtain permits to dock either in Argentine ports or in the Falkland Islands (British), approached Montevideo in search of assistance.

A day later, the only medical officer started having a fever.


Usme, married 23 years ago and the father of three children, one of them a medical student, considers himself a Catholic man and, according to him, bases his personal life and medical career on God.

"Faith is what has kept me physically, mentally and spiritually healthy (...) I am not a person who can be taken as an example of Christianity because I am a very imperfect man but I am looking for the way to get closer to what God wants, "he says.

After being isolated in his cabin with fever for several days, the ship's health officer was transferred on April 10, taking advantage of the humanitarian corridor coordinated by Uruguay and allowing the evacuation of 112 passengers, to the Casmu hospital center, in Montevideo, where tested positive for COVID-19 and received treatment.

In any case, beyond thanking the Casmu team and the two Venezuelan doctors residing in Uruguay who resumed their work at the Greg Mortimer, Usme assures that without his faith in God, he could not have faced the disease.

"In my house they have always instilled in us the Catholic faith, faith in God, living faith and that has helped me a lot; if it were not for faith I would have collapsed. I am completely sure that the medical evolution that I have had has a lot to do with the mercy of God, "he points out.


After being discharged, the doctor returned to the ship, where he remains isolated. From there, he claims to feel good, although he continues to test positive.

On the other hand, he emphasizes that, although the company is evaluating continuing towards the Canary Islands (Spain) once the quarantine of the crew has ended, as a doctor he disagrees and claims to wait until he can disembark in Uruguay.

"I am on the ship, I cannot jump into the sea, the ship moves with me and I hold this ship, this company, fully responsible for both my health and my repatriation and my wages, because traveling is an unnecessary risk "he concludes.


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