CLAIR  and Philip Oxley-Oxland who were stranded on the MSC Fantasia when their cruise was cut short.
CLAIR and Philip Oxley-Oxland who were stranded on the MSC Fantasia when their cruise was cut short.

Lockdown leaves Pretoria couple on bucket list cruise in limbo

By Val Boje Time of article published Apr 1, 2020

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Pretoria - Pretoria couple Philip and Clair Oxley-Oxland love to cruise, but never expected to be locked out of the country.

The couple started with a few local cruises but have since done two cruises with Royal Caribbean, one to the Western Mediterranean and one to the Bahamas, as well as two grand voyages from Durban and Cape Town to Venice.

In March last year they planned a bucket-list trip for this year: a transatlantic cruise on the MSC Fantasia from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 9 and then on to Spain, Portugal and France ending in Genoa, Italy, on Saturday.

However, with the coronavirus crisis and closure of ports, their cruise was cancelled midway, and the challenge began about where the Fantasia could dock and how the passengers from various countries would get home.

Denied permission in Barcelona, Spain, they sailed for Lisbon, Portugal, docking on March 22 where the cruise ended. Some passengers from other countries were allowed to disembark when repatriation flights were arranged and the Oxley-Oxlands were optimistic they would get home.

“It’s a good day,” Clair posted on Facebook, with a picture of Philip looking at the city through his binoculars. “The Portuguese authorities are on board and we have flights home on Lufthansa.”

But, for them, along with 12 other South Africans on board, every flight they booked was cancelled because they could not leave the ship, and then because of the lockdown of South Africa’s borders, including OR Tambo International Airport.

For the past few days the group has been stuck in a hotel in Frankfurt while they wait to hear what arrangements can be made to get them safely home.

Germany, too, is in lockdown and yesterday Clair posted on Facebook a picture from the hotel window, noting it is “a cold dark day in Frankfurt for us. We have been told to stay in our rooms”.

Now one of the party, who suffered heart problems, has been admitted to hospital in Frankfurt.

Joan Bengston's wife said that she and her husband John were among those who were unable to return home, as borders were closed, and because they were not allowed to disembark earlier with those from other countries they were stuck outside the country after the lockdown.

She said John's pre-existing problems were worsened by the uncertainty on the cruise. The Oxley-Oxlands remained hopeful that a plan would be made, especially after hearing that Germany was working through its embassy in Pretoria to repatriate the South Africans.

Further encouragement came from President Cyril Ramaphosa who, in his address on Monday night, acknowledged there are many South Africans abroad and wanting to come home.

“We are paying attention to this and will be giving assistance where possible within our constrained resources,” he said.

Yesterday, they were delighted to get word of the announcement by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula of a directive which would allow foreigners to return, and further details provided by Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Naledi Pandor to assist stranded South Africans to come home.

Even if they faced quarantine, they would do whatever it took just to be back home and close to their sons Devan and Keegan and a new arrival in the family, a baby girl called Harley born to Devan and his wife Lauren on March 20 while the couple were away.

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Pretoria News

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