Holland America ships with sick passengers could dock in Florida within hours
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The Holland America ship that has been stuck at sea for weeks due to coronavirus fears has arrived off the coast of Florida and could dock in Fort Lauderdale within hours.
The Zaandam, and a sister vessel that has taken aboard some of its passengers, Rotterdam, are in a holding pattern in international waters just to the east of Fort Lauderdale.
Both of the vessels have popped up on the docking schedule for Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. Rotterdam is scheduled to dock at 1 p.m., while Zaandam is expected for a 1:30 p.m. arrival.
The arrivals only are listed as scheduled for now — not confirmed — and there has been no official word from the port that the vessels will be allowed to dock. But one of the commissioners of Broward County, the county encompassing Fort Lauderdale, tweeted this morning that Holland America’s parent company, Carnival Corp., had received conditional approval for a plan to bring the vessels into Port Everglades later today.
In a statement late Wednesday, Holland America said it was awaiting confirmation that it would be able to disembark passengers from the two ships at Port Everglades. It said the vessels would remain in international waters while awaiting clearance to enter the port.
Holland America has been discussing its options with the port’s Unified Command, which is made up of representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and national and local Broward County health and law enforcement agencies.
“We remain fully engaged with the Broward Unified Command and other governmental and embassy authorities to resolve this humanitarian situation”, Holland America said in its statement.
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As of late Wednesday, 97 passengers on the two vessels had reported influenza-like symptoms, which are similar to COVID-19 symptoms. That’s a 33% increase from Monday, when Holland America said 73 passengers had reported influenza-like symptoms.
In addition, 136 crew have reported influenza-like symptoms.
Four Zaandam passengers have died on the vessel in recent days. The line has confirmed that two of the passengers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Holland America has noted that some of the passengers and crew included in its illness counts no longer are experiencing symptoms. The totals include passengers and crew who fell ill several days ago but have since recovered. The line on Wednesday suggested that fewer than 55 passengers still are exhibiting symptoms — “approximately 45” with mild symptoms.
Holland America on Wednesday said it had proposed a disembarkation plan for the ships that would see passengers who are not showing signs of illness transferred directly to an airport for flights home. The majority of flights would be charter flights, the line said.
The line said its plan called for the 45 or so passengers who are exhibiting mild symptoms to remain in isolation on the Holland America ships.
A small group of people that are in need of immediate critical care — “less than 10,” the line said — would be transferred from the ships to a local health provider in Broward County, the county that encompasses Fort Lauderdale.
The line didn’t say if the people in need of immediate care were passengers or crew.
“This small number is the only group that will require any support from medical resources in Broward County, and [it] is necessary to prevent further harm to their health”, the line said.
The possible arrival of the two ships at Port Everglades has been controversial in Florida, with many local leaders including Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis calling for the vessels to be sent somewhere else. Trantalis earlier this week suggested sending the ships to a naval base.
Trantalis since has softened his stance, saying a humanitarian solution must be found and the decision of whether the ship can dock in Port Everglades rests with local, state and federal officials.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday also softened his stance, saying he would allow the ship to dock.
Zaandam is one of more than a dozen cruise ships that have been stuck at sea in recent weeks as countries around the world have closed their borders. The 61,396-ton vessel was sailing near the southern tip of South America when Holland America suspended operations nearly three weeks ago and has been unable to find a place to dock since.
Zaandam has spent the last few weeks sailing northward toward the United States, as the U.S. had been one of the few countries that had remained open to returning cruise vessels. The first signs of illness on board occurred on March 22, and the case counts quickly grew.
With the situation on board Zaandam becoming more dire, Holland America over the weekend transferred groups of still-healthy passengers from Zaandam to Rotterdam, which had been sent to rendezvous with the vessel.
In the wake of the transfers, there now are just 442 passengers on Zaandam. The ship has 603 crew aboard.
The remaining 808 passengers now are on Rotterdam, along with 583 crew members. Rotterdam did not have any passengers on board when it was sent to Zaandam’s aid.
“Holland America Line calls for compassion and reason in the review and approval of our disembarkation plan by Florida officials”, the line said. “We are grateful for those that have supported our efforts”.
Featured photo by Ivan Pisarenko/AFP/Getty Images
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