Florida officials have officially permitted the MS Zaandam and the MS Rotterdam, Holland America cruise ships with hundreds of sick on board, to dock at Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades and begin disembarking guests.
Exceeding safety procedures laid out by U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health, healthy passengers will return to their homes on Friday and Saturday on chartered flights to domestic and international destinations, the Port Everglades Unified Command said in a statement sent to Business Insider.
The arrival at Port Everglades marks the beginning of the end of a grueling journey for both ships. According to a statement from Holland America, 250 guests and crew members — 90 guests on the Zaandam and 17 guests on the Rotterdam, as well as 143 crew members on the Zaandam — have fallen ill with influenza-like symptoms since March 22. Four passengers have died, and nine people have tested positive for COVID-19.
In the document outlining the repatriation plan for the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, it was noted that 10 Zaandam passengers and three Rotterdam passengers have been hospitalized onboard with need for shore side care.
According to the approved plan, Florida's Broward Health Medical Center has agreed to accept 10 patients, while Larkin Community Hospital accepted four patients. Those 14 critical patients with severe illness and critical care needs will be transported to those hospitals via One Call Medical Transport.
In a statement Holland America said priority was given today to those who need immediate care at local health system partners who have approved their arrival.
Ostensibly, healthy guests onboard the ships will undergo health tests and processing by US Customs and Border Protection, as outlined in a letter sent to Rotterdam passengers.
Disembarkation is expected to be completed by tomorrow evening, Holland America said in its statement. According to the cruise line, buses will transport fit-to-travel guests from Port Everglades to the airport.
The majority will leave on charter flights, the statement said. Local Florida residents will return home immediately via private car.
Of the 1250 passengers on board both ships, 311 are United States citizens, and 52 reside in Florida. The guests onboard the Zaandam and Rotterdam have not been on land since March 14. Passengers have been self-isolating in their staterooms since March 22.
For most of those that are sick, the journey is not over yet, however. Holland America said that symptomatic passengers will stay on the ship with medical staffers. They will be allowed to disembark at a later date to be finalized after they have fully recovered and meet the CDC guidelines for being fit to travel.
No crew from either ship will disembark in Fort Lauderdale, Holland America said in its statement.
Holland America thanked United States President Donald Trump, who advocated for the ships to dock in Florida, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the Broward County Board of County Commissioners, Port Everglades Unified Command, Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry and all governmental and embassy authorities who helped to resolve this situation and get our nearly 1,200 guests home.
And a special thank you to Broward County Mayor Dale Holness for his leadership, help and understanding, the statement said.
The Zaandam was caught up in the international coronavirus pandemic during a cruise around South America that started in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7. The cruise would end in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. Some passengers, however, had booked back-to-back cruises and were due to sail from San Antonio to Fort Lauderdale, for an April 7 arrival.