Virus ‘Death Ship’ Finally Docks. But Not Everyone Allowed Off

After being stranded at sea for three weeks, passengers on aCarnival Corp. cruise ship that was refused entry by multiple countries started disembarking in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — but not all will be allowed to end a nightmare trip that left four dead and nine infected with coronavirus.

Holland America Line’s Zaandam arrived at the port Thursday as emergency medical personnel waited to carry away the most seriously ill for treatment. The Rotterdam, a sister ship that came to the aid of the Zaandam and took on some of its healthy passengers, was also allowed to disembark.

By the evening, some of the 1,200 passengers from the two ships posted on social media that they were making their journeys home. A couple dozen others passengers with milder symptoms, along with hundreds of crew members, must remain on board.

Fort Lauderdale was the Zaandam’s final port, and its plight has spurred fierce debate in Florida, with officials weighing help for the sick on board against the possibility of adding to strains on the local health-care resources. It’s just the latest cruise ship to see an outbreak and strife at sea, with the boats’ close living quarters facilitating the spread of virus cases. Countries around the world have been refusing port to cruise liners on concern passengers will pass on the coronavirus once on land. That’s left thousands of cruisers and crew stranded and cruise companies facing one of their biggest ever crises.

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As part of the negotiations with local officials, Holland America came up with a plan to treat and quarantine passengers with mild symptoms on board the Zaandam, while sending about a dozen of the sickest passengers to Florida hospitals. The news saw joy and relief at coming into port to disappointment for some of those on board, with some couples and families being faced with separation.

Zaandam passenger Gloria Weed was initially given the news that both she and her husband, Bill Weed, would be moved to a hospital. Hours later, the Sarasota, Florida couple found out they would be separated: he would be headed to a local hospital, while she must remain on the ship.

Coughing Fits

“I thought Florida residents might be left off even if they were sick,” said Gloria, who has had a low-grade fever, in a text message to her daughter, Amy Weed-Jones. “I hope it’s just a mistake.”

Weed called her daughter in the middle of the night recently and told her she didn’t think her husband, 75, was going to make it until the morning. Bill Weed has been diagnosed with pneumonia and suffers from fever and debilitating coughing fits.

“I don’t know how much time my dad has, honestly,” Weed-Jones said, before receiving the news her father would be hospitalized. “Every second counts.”

Weed-Jones, along with other relatives of passengers, has been pleading with Florida government officials to allow the Zaandam to dock on humanitarian grounds and because there are Americans on board. But they faced opposition from local officials and the state Governor Ron DeSantis. U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in, pushing for Florida to allow the ships to dock.

The Zaandam had departed Buenos Aires and was a day into its voyage when the U.S. State Department advised Americans on March 8 not to embark on cruises. On March 13, Trump said he asked cruise lines to suspend sailings, though some had already announced they were doing so voluntarily.

‘Without Warning’

Holland America said the Zaandam’s voyage was the victim of an unprecedented crisis that struck “without warning,” in a statement. But parent company Carnival saw its first virus situation two months ago off Yokohama, Japan, when the Diamond Princess was infected with coronavirus and made to enforce a mass quarantine on board. More than 700 people were eventually infected, and for a time it was the largest virus outbreak outside of mainland China.

Under Holland America’s plan, most passengers will be allowed to disembark and then put on charter flights home. About 45 guests with mild illness will quarantine on board, and some with urgent medical needs will be taken to hospitals.

“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,” Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford said.

When passengers and crew started getting sick on the Zaandam, Holland America sent the Rotterdam to rendezvous off Panama and take on many healthy but vulnerable passengers. One anxious passenger, Yadira Garza, pleaded with Mexican consulate officials to help her and her newlywed husband get off the Zaandam, which she described as the “death ship.”

Read more: Passengers on ‘Death Ship’ Plead for Rescue as Virus Strikes

Among the four people who died earlier in the voyage, two had Covid-19, according to Holland America. Since March 22, 107 guests and 143 crew between both ships have shown flu-like symptoms.

The Zaandam’s voyage was supposed to end in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. A second leg of the ship’s voyage was supposed to end in Ft. Lauderdale on April 7. The company said it attempted to dock at other ports but was denied entry.

The virus crisis isn’t over for Carnival.

One of the ships in its Princess Cruises line, the Coral Princess, is poised to arrive in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. On Thursday, the company said that seven Coral Princess passengers and five crew had tested positive for Covid-19.

Cruise operators have been hit financially by coronavirus, with many shuttering operations until at least mid-May. Some Carnival sailings on its flagship line have been canceled through the end of the year.

The suspensions have upended earnings. Carnival is in talks to raise as much as $7 billion to shore up its finances, Bloomberg reported.

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