A plan has been devised to enable coronavirus-hit ship Zaandam at the centre of a humanitarian crisis to dock at a port in Florida.
Four people including a British man have died on board the ship which is hoping to enter US waters today (Wednesday) alongside sister vessel Rotterdam.
Operator Holland America Line is awaiting confirmation to disembark passengers at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and has won the backing of President Donald Trump in its efforts.
However, the port in Broward County insisted yesterday that the ships will not be allowed into US waters until a “detailed plan” is submitted and approved.
“Our number one priority is to ensure the safety and security of the local community, the passengers and the crew,” a statement said.
The cruise line revealed that approval has been secured from a local health system partner to accept less than ten people who need “immediate critical care” for treatment.
“This small number is the only group that will require any support from medical resources in Broward County and is necessary to prevent further harm to their health,” the company said.
Around 45 passengers, who still have a “mild illness” and are unfit to travel, will continue to isolate onboard until they have recovered.
HAL aims to transport 1,200 well passengers who are fit to travel home immediately once the ships have been allowed to dock.
The company said: “Holland America Line calls for compassion and reason in the review and approval of our disembarkation plan by Florida officials and we are grateful for those that have supported our efforts.
“We appreciate the support of President Trump in resolving the humanitarian plight of our guests – 311 of whom are American citizens and 52 of whom are residents of Florida. There are also four children under the age of 12 onboard.”
MS Zaandam conveying the Panama Canal Locks.
Passengers have not left Zaandam since March 14 after it was refused entry to many ports in South America and have been self-isolating in their cabins for almost two weeks.
A total of 97 passengers – 83 on Zaandam and 14 on Rotterdam – and 136 crew on Zaandam have presented with influenza-like symptoms since March 22, according to HAL.
Zaandam is carrying 442 passengers and 603 crew. More than 200 passengers from the UK were among those who originally joined the ship for a two-week South America itinerary on March 7. Rotterdam has 808 passengers and 583 crew on board.
The cruise line said: “We remain fully engaged with the Broward Unified Command and other governmental and embassy authorities to resolve this humanitarian situation and get the nearly 1,200 well guests home immediately who are fit for travel per guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Both ships are scheduled to arrive at the boundary of US waters by early tomorrow morning [Wednesday] and will remain outside US waters while awaiting clearance to enter.
“Guests fit for travel per the CDC would transfer straight from the ship to flights for onward travel home, the majority on charter flights.
“Out of an abundance of caution, these guests will be transported in coaches that will be sanitised, with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks.
“These provisions will exceed what the CDC has advised is necessary for their travel.
“The approximately 45 guests who still have mild illness and are unfit to travel at this time will continue to isolate onboard until recovered.
“Disembarkation would be at a later date to be determined and only after they have recovered and are in alignment with CDC guidelines for being fit to travel.”
HAL suspended global cruise operations for 30 days due to global health concerns and end cruises in progress as quickly as possible.
Zaandam was sailing a South America cruise at the time that left Buenos Aires on March 7 that was originally due to end at San Antonio in Chile, on March 21.
Attempts were made and denied to disembark passengers in Chile on March 15 and in other ports along its route to the US.
Zaandam was originally scheduled to begin a 20-day South America and Panama Canal cruise from San Antonio on March 21 to end in Fort Lauderdale on April 7.
An additional 30-day extension of cruise cancellations was announced on March 30, including departures until May 14.