An Australian couple stranded in Central America due to the Covid-19 pandemic have come up with unique, and rather brave, idea to get home.
Tamara Llic and Jake Shepard are currently in Panama and trying to get back to Australia, they told Channel Nine's Today, and are among the roughly 40,000 Australians still stranded abroad due to strict biosecurity controls during the pandemic.
The couple say they have wasted thousands of dollars in airfares and patiently waited as three flights home were cancelled.
After failing to find support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the pair came up with a bold plan and have now pinned their hopes on getting home via the water.
"Apart from the flights we've contacted DFAT, we've contacted the Embassy in different countries, and the only thing we've received back is one automated email which wasn't helpful so that's why we started looking into alternative ways to get home," Ms Ilic told Today.
Earlier, the pair posted a call out for help in a Facebook group designed to match boat crew with captains.
"Crossing the Pacific? We are a couple of Aussies who are currently in Panama but can get to another location if needed," they wrote.
"We are looking to get as close to Australia as possible. If anyone is embarking on this route and looking for two hard working crew to join your adventure please do not hesitate to contact," the pair posted in the Sailboat Hitchhikers and Crew Connection group.
Despite not having any boating experience, Ms Llic and Mr Shepard are eager to earn their keep and learn along the way. They also offered to throw in skills from their day jobs.
“An electrician and a photographer with a drone and film equipment we can document your trip for you and create videos for you to remember your adventure.”
Through their social media posts the couple managed to land themselves on the crew of a 46 foot sailboat that will spend the next four months at sea – on an ultimate voyage to Brisbane.
Ms Ilic told Today their captain has "extensive experience" and is willing to show them the ropes but there is one big concern harboured by Mr Shepard.
"I've got a healthy fear of sharks, I'd like to say – they're dangerous," he said, laughing nervously.
The couple set sail yesterday morning, according to their social media posts, and even with the long journey ahead they are looking forward to finally getting home.
"We get to go home and we get an adventure along the way," Ms Llic said.
Aussie passports 'have become coasters'
International travel to and from Australia has been severely limited for nearly one year, with emergency biosecurity powers now extended for another three months until mid-June.
The change did not make a difference for stranded Australians, says Lucy Morrell, who is planning to return from Japan.
"I don't think it's made a ripple, because really the announcement was just business as usual," she told AAP on Wednesday.
"I don't think any of us had any optimism that things were going to improve."
Ms Morrell is a spokeswoman for the Stranded Aussies Action Network, which has been set up in recent weeks to provide resources for people attempting to fly home.
One of the group's suggested actions is for people to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on their list of those wanting to return.
The list is currently at about 41,000.
Ms Morrell, her husband and 12-year-old daughter are packing up their life in Japan to return to NSW.
She says Australians overseas are feeling ignored by the federal government.
"Our passports have become coasters," Ms Morrell said.
"They're just not as valuable as we thought they were."
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