Coronavirus-hit cruise ships finally permitted to disembark healthy passengers in Florida

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Holland America Line’s Zaandam and Rotterdam have finally reached port after 12 days at sea. The two ships, which are carrying Zaandam’s original passengers split between them, have been sailing together since Rotterdam came to her sister ship’s aid on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. 

Zaandam had been sailing a South America cruise that began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7, and was originally scheduled to end in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. Attempts were made and denied to disembark guests in Chile on March 15 and at other ports on the way to Florida. Guests had not left the ship since March 14 and were subject to self-isolation in their staterooms since March 22.

After lengthy negotiations and the intervention of President Trump, the two ships were cleared for arrival into Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

There had been resistance to allow them to dock, because since March 22, 107 guests (90 on Zaandam/17 on Rotterdam) and 143 crew on Zaandam (0 on Rotterdam) had influenza-like symptoms. 

Orlando Ashford, the president of the cruise line, made a passionate plea for help, describing the situation as a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

Rotterdam arrived in port with 808 guests and 583 crew; Zaandam with 442 guests and 603 crew. Across the two ships there were 229 British passengers.

Fit-to-travel guests will transfer straight from their ship to buses for transfer directly to the airport for their flights home, the majority leaving on charter flights.

Workers dressed in hazmat suits take the luggage of Zaandam

Workers dressed in hazmat suits take the luggage of Zaandam

Credit:
Getty

The cruise line expects disembarkation to be completed by this evening, with priority given to those who need immediate care at local health centres who have approved their arrival.

Guests who still have mild symptoms will remain on board, being cared for by the ships’ medical staff, and will disembark at a later date to be finalized after they have fully recovered and meet the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for being fit to travel.  No crew from either ship will disembark in Fort Lauderdale. 

In a statement released last night, 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. 

“We are so happy to be able to get our guests home and assist those few who need additional medical services. The Covid-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our shared humanity, and we must do everything we can to ensure we continue to act in ways consistent with our common human dignity. 

“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. 

“I would also like to extend my sincerest thanks to the amazing officers and crews of Zaandam and Rotterdam. They are heroes who rose to the challenge of taking care of our guests and each other under extraordinary circumstances.” 

The ships will remain out of service until at least May 15, in line with Holland America’s global pause in operations, a move which has been made by the entire cruise industry due to the global health crisis.  

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