Florida authorities clear stranded Holland America ships Zaandam and Rotterdam for arrival in Port Everglades, and the cruise line expects its 'fit-for-travel' guests to be off the ship by Friday night

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesThe MS Zaandam has docked in Florida’s Port Everglades.
  • Florida authorities have officially confirmed that Holland America’s two stranded cruise ships, the MS Zaandam and Rotterdam, can dock at Port Everglades.
  • A total of 14 passengers will be medically evacuated from the ships and taken to local hospitals due to “severe illness and critical care needs.”
  • “Fit-for-travel” passengers will be shuttled in buses to charter flights at the airport, while Florida residents on the ship will be driven home in cars sent by Holland America.
  • Holland America said in a statement that it expected disembarkation would wrap up Friday night.
  • Four passengers have died on the Zaandam after an outbreak of respiratory illness sickened at least 250 people.
  • Nine passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.

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. Centres 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 gruelling 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 shoreside care.”

According to the approved plan, Florida’s Broward Health Medical Centre “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 sent to Business Insider, 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 finalised 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 Port Everglades Unified Command – the body that approved of Carnival’s repatriation plan – is made up of representatives of the United States Coast Guard, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Department of Health, US Customs and Border Patrol, port pilots, and other officials. The task force was responsible for working with Holland America’s parent company, Carnival Corp., to finalise a plan regarding the disembarkation of Zaandam and Rotterdam passengers.

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.

“We are so happy to be able to get our guests home and assist those few who need additional medical services,” Holland America President Orlando Ashford said in the statement. “The COVID-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our shared humanity, and we must do everything we can to ensure we continue to act in ways consistent with our common human dignity.

Read the Port Everglades Unified Command’s full statement here:

The Port Everglades Unified Command, comprised of federal, state and local partners, worked with Carnival Corporation, parent company of Holland America Line, to develop a comprehensive plan for the safe disembarkation of nearly 1,200 passengers from two cruise ships. Exceeding safety procedures laid out by U.S. Centres 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.

Read Holland America’s full statement here:

Holland America Line is pleased to confirm that Broward County and the Unified Command cleared both Zaandam and Rotterdam for arrival to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to disembark guests who are fit to travel per guidelines from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We extend our sincere gratitude to President Trump, 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.

“These travellers 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 Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line. “We are so happy to be able to get our guests home and assist those few who need additional medical services. The COVID-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our shared humanity, and we must do everything we can to ensure we continue to act in ways consistent with our common human dignity.

“Our guests on board both ships have been truly incredible, and we extend our deepest thanks and appreciation to all of them,” continued Ashford. “Their cooperation, support and understanding throughout this entire experience helped us best protect the health of all on board and ensured our shipboard teams could focus on caring for everyone and getting them home.

“I would also like to extend my sincerest thanks to the amazing officers and crews of Zaandam and Rotterdam,” continued Ashford.
“They are heroes who rose to the challenge of taking care of our guests and each other under extraordinary circumstances. All of us at Holland America Line are so very proud of our colleagues for their exemplary leadership and service.”

Following arrival in Port Everglades, guests will be health screened and also cleared for entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Disembarkation is expected to be completed by tomorrow evening, with priority given today to those who need immediate care at local health system partners who have approved their arrival.

Fit-to-travel guests will transfer straight from ship onto buses for transfer directly to the airport for their flights home. The majority will leave on charter flights. Local Florida residents will return home immediately via private car. Guests have not left the ship since March 14 and have self-isolated in their staterooms since March 22.

Guests who still have symptoms will remain on board and disembark at a later date to be finalised after they have fully recovered and meet the CDC guidelines for being fit to travel. They will continue to be well cared for on board by the ships’ medical staffs.

No crew from either ship will disembark in Fort Lauderdale.

Since March 22, 107 guests (90 on Zaandam/17 on Rotterdam) and 143 crew on Zaandam (0 on Rotterdam) have presented with influenza-like symptoms.

There are 808 guests and 583 crew on Rotterdam. On Zaandam there are 442 guests and 603 crew. Among the guests, 311 guests are American citizens and 52 are residents of Florida.

Due to global health concerns, Holland America Line made the decision to suspend its global cruise operations for 30 days and end its current cruises in progress as quickly as possible.  At the time, Zaandam was sailing a South America cruise that began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 that was originally scheduled to end in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. Attempts were made and denied to disembark guests in Chile on March 15 and at other ports along its route to the United States.

On March 21, Zaandam was originally scheduled to begin a 20-day South America and Panama Canal cruise from San Antonio, Chile, and end in Fort Lauderdale on April 7. On March 30 an additional 30-day extension of cruise cancellations was announced, including departures through May 14.

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