FORT LAUDERDALE, FL — Two Holland America Line cruise ships with four dead passengers and dozens of crew and passengers reporting flu-like symptoms arrived Thursday in Fort Lauderdale after President Donald Trump said the United States had no choice but to act.
“We’re sending a lot of them home to their countries, but we’ll be doing something and we’ll be announcing it,” the president told reporters Wednesday. He said a number of Americans, Canadians and British citizens were on board the vessels.
“We don’t have a choice,” Trump said. “People are dying.”
At least two passengers and crew on the Zaandam and Rotterdam have tested positive for the new coronavirus.
“These travelers 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,” said Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford. “We are so happy to be able to get our guests home and assist those few who need additional medical services.”
Passengers will be screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Disembarkation is expected to be completed by Friday night, with priority being given to those who need immediate care.
The cruise line said the ships are carrying 311 American citizens and 52 residents of Florida. There are also four children under the age of 12 on the ships.
“Fit-to-travel guests will transfer straight from ship onto buses for transfer directly to the airport for their flights home,” the cruise line said. “The majority will leave on charter flights. Local Florida residents will return home immediately via private car.”
No crew members will be permitted to leave the ships. Passengers who still have symptoms will remain on board “after they have fully recovered and meet the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines for being fit to travel.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Broward County officials had opposed allowing the ships to dock at Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, which is in the epicenter of Florida’s coronavirus outbreak along with nearby Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
The cruise line, which is owned by South Florida-based Carnival Corp., reported a total of 97 passengers and 136 crew with flu-like symptoms. At least two people later tested positive for the new coronavirus.
“We have seen a significant decline in the presentation of new cases on Zaandam, with only one new case reporting in the past 24 hours,” a spokesperson for the cruise line said earlier.
The Zaandam had 1,243 passengers and 586 crew on board. No one has been off the ship since March 14 in Punta Arenas, Chile. The passengers who died were described as “older” guests.
The Zaandam rendezvoused with the Rotterdam last week. Groups of healthy Zaandam passengers were transferred to the Rotterdam, while guests who were ill or in isolation remained on the Zaandam with crew members.
The Zaandam was sailing a South America voyage that departed Buenos Aires on March 7. It had been scheduled to end the voyage in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21.
The cruise line said there are 808 passengers and 583 crew on the Rotterdam, while the Zaandam has 442 passengers and 603 crew.
“The COVID-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our shared humanity,” Ashford said, “and we must do everything we can to ensure we continue to act in ways consistent with our common human dignity.”