Two Holland America Cruise Ships Dock in Florida

Cruise ships Zaandam (R) and Rotterdam of the Holland America Line, carrying patients affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), arrive at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. April 2, 2020. REUTER/Joe Skipper

MIAMI, April 2 (Reuters) – An ocean liner forced by a deadly onboard coronavirus outbreak to languish at sea since mid-March pulled into a South Florida port on Thursday, after authorities settled plans for the vessel and its sister ship to dock and most passengers to come ashore.

The Holland America Line cruise ship MS Zaandam and its twin, the MS Rotterdam, docked late in the afternoon at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where medical personnel immediately began off-loading 13 severely ill passengers and one crew member for transport to area hospitals.

The arrival of the ships capped a nearly three-week ordeal during which about 100 passengers and dozens of crew aboard the Zaandam reported influenza-like illness and four passengers died as numerous Latin-American ports along its route refused the vessel’s entry.

Nearly two-thirds of the Zaandam’s original passengers – those who cleared a medical screening – were transferred to the Rotterdam before the ships were granted passage through the Panama Canal on Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump intervened on Tuesday to urge Florida officials to accept the stricken cruise ship after Governor Ron DeSantis, a fellow Republican, had declared the Zaandam unwelcome, saying he did not want its sick passengers “dumped” in his state.

The governor relented once a “unified command” consisting of federal, state and local authorities reached agreement days later on a plan for repatriating the Zaandam, which departed Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 for what was to have been a 20-day voyage to Chile. A second leg of the cruise had been due to end in Fort Lauderdale on April 7.

The Broward County Commission gave final approval to the plan, which is to be paid for by the cruise line, early Thursday.

‘CONTROLLED EXIT’

“These two ships have U.S. citizens on board. I think the Zaandam has 40, 50 Floridians, so I think we have an interest in making sure these folks come safely,” DeSantis told a news conference on Thursday before the vessels arrived.

He said the arrival plan provides for a “controlled exit.”

At least 26 passengers known to still be symptomatic but not requiring hospitalization will remain aboard the ships in port until they are well and declared fit for travel under federal health guidelines, according to details of the agreement.

Holland America said its medical staff would care for them.

Most of the remaining 1,200 some passengers, assuming they pass a medical screening, were expected to begin disembarking on Friday and be transferred straight to chartered flights home.

“Out of an abundance of caution, these guests will be transported in coaches that will be sanitized, with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks,” the cruise line said.

Until Thursday, none of the Zaandam’s passengers had been off the ship since March 14, with all confined to their cabins for the past 10 days, according to the company.

Holland America said 311 passengers are U.S. citizens, 52 of the residents of Florida. Those living near the port will drive home, the cruise line said.

None of the 1,180-plus crew members from the two ships will be allowed off in Fort Lauderdale, though it was not clear when the vessels will leave and how their personnel will be repatriated.

Initial objections to the Zaandam’s arrival had drawn a rebuke from Dr Anthony Fauci, one of Trump’s chief advisers on the pandemic, who urged Florida welcome the ships to port.

“You have to take care of the people who are ill. You just have an obligation to do that. And as quickly as possible. You’ve got to get the people who are not sick, who are not infected, off the ship,” Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS “This Morning” just before the deal was reported.

Keith Kobler, a passenger along with his wife, Doris, told NBC they were aware the country had undergone a major shift over the past month as the coronavirus spread nationwide.

“It’s probably going to be strange for us,” he said. (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis, Nick Macfie and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Ship at the centre of ‘humanitarian plight’ awaits entry into the US

Holland America Zaandam Deals | Cruise1st

MS Zaandam

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.”

Coronavirus: Plan in progress for infected Holland America ship
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.

Cruise ship off Panama coast transfers passengers

Canadian passengers Chris and Anna Joiner ask for help on board the MS Zaandam, Holland America Line cruise ship, during the coronavirus outbreak, off the shores of Panama City, Panama, 27 March 2020
Canadian passengers on the Zaandam, Chris and Anna Joiner, asked their government for help

A cruise ship carrying more than 1,800 people off Panama has begun moving healthy passengers to another ship after four people died and two others tested positive for coronavirus.

The owners of the Zaandam, Holland America, said that more than 130 people on board had reported suffering “flu-like symptoms” and respiratory issues.

The Dutch-owned operator said it was transferring asymptomatic people to a sister ship.

It said this would avoid further cases.

The Zaandam and its sister ship the Rotterdam are both off the Pacific coast of Panama.

The Zaandam was planning to sail to Florida but got stuck after the Panamanian authorities said that no vessel with confirmed coronavirus cases on board could pass through the Panama Canal.

However, both ships were later granted permission to continue their journeys in order “to provide humanitarian help” – although the Panamanian authorities added that no passenger could disembark.

The company first announced its plan to “transfer groups of healthy Zaandam guests to [the] Rotterdam” in a statement on Facebook on Friday, adding that it would follow “strict protocols”.

It said that “four older guests” had died, but did not give further details about the causes of death.

“We received approval from Panamanian authorities to conduct ship-to-ship operations at anchor between the two vessels,” the statement reads.

An unspecified number of passengers – as well as medical supplies and staff – are being transferred between the vessels

Passengers on board Holland America's cruise ship Zaandam as it entered the Panama City bay, 27 March 2020
Hundreds of passengers without coronavirus symptoms are to be transferred to another ship

Holland America had earlier said that 53 guests and 85 crew members had reported influenza-like illness symptoms.

There were initially 1,243 guests and 586 crew onboard the Zaandam, including four doctors and four nurses, the company said.

The Panama Maritime Authority later said that passengers who were not displaying coronavirus symptoms could be transferred to the Rotterdam.

“It has been concluded that it does not represent any risk to our population since it will be carried out more than eight miles from the mainland,” the authority said, adding that the bodies of the deceased would remain on the Zaandam.

The cruise ship MS Zaandam is pictured as coronavirus disease outbreak continues in Panama City, 28 March 2020
The Zaandam has now been granted permission to pass through the Panama Canal

Gurvan Le Pavec, whose parents are onboard the Zaandam, said they have “zero contact with the outside world”, adding: “The only thing everyone is waiting for is a positive outcome and that all the passengers can disembark and go home.”

The Zaandam was on a South America cruise that departed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 7 March.

On Friday, Panama reported that 14 people had so far died in the country after contracting Covid-19, with 786 confirmed cases of infection.

There are now more than 10,000 coronavirus cases in South America