The cruise ship on which four passengers died from Covid-19 and others became critically ill has finally been allowed to dock in Florida.
President Trump overruled the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who initially rejected permission for Zaandam to end her long voyage at her home port of Fort Lauderdale.
The Holland America Line vessel, with 229 British passengers on board, left Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chile on 12 March. She has not been able to disembark passengers at any port since then, despite repeated attempts – and a “secret” refuelling and reprovisioning call at Guayaquil in Ecuador.
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In the ensuing three weeks, four passengers have died on board Zaandam, including a 75-year-old British man, John Carter.
A week ago, 808 apparently healthy passengers from the ship were transferred off the coast of Panama to a sister vessel, Rotterdam.
The ships have now docked in adjacent berths at the Port Everglades terminal in Fort Lauderdale. Pictures shared on social media showed at least 13 ambulances lined up on the quayside for critically ill passengers.
A total of 250 passengers and crew on Zaandam have flu-like symptoms, and 17 of the passengers transferred to Rotterdam have developed them.
Apart from one critically ill crew member, none of the 1,186 crew will be allowed to leave the ship.
The cruise line’s president, Orlando Ashford, said: “These travellers could have been any one of us or our families, unexpectedly caught in the middle of this unprecedented closure of global borders that happened in a matter of days and without warning.
“Our guests on board both ships have been truly incredible, and we extend our deepest thanks and appreciation to all of them.
“Their cooperation, support and understanding throughout this entire experience helped us best protect the health of all on board and ensured our shipboard teams could focus on caring for everyone and getting them home.”
Disembarkation is expected to take 24 hours because of the health checks required. Fort Lauderdale’s airport is only two miles from the cruise port and many passengers will be taken straight there. They will be required to wear masks on board the buses.
Passengers who still have symptoms will remain on board the ships and be allowed off only after they have fully recovered.
Attention has now switched to Coral Princess, which was due to end a cruise around the southern tip of South America in Buenos Aires on 19 March. She was denied permission to disembark passengers in the Argentinian capital, and subsequently refused at Rio. She then sailed to Bridgetown, Barbados for essential supplies and is now off the Turks and Caicos Islands about one day from Fort Lauderdale.
Seven of the 1,020 passengers and five of her 878 crew members have tested positive for Covid-19.
The cruise line said: “Princess continues to seek approvals through multiple diplomatic channels, and to work with local officials for disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale.”
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