Three weeks since they last stepped on dry land, hundreds of passengers aboard the Zaandam may soon be allowed to leave the stricken cruise ship.
President Trump has intervened to overturn the decision by Florida’s governor that the vessel could not dock at its home port, Fort Lauderdale.
The Holland America Line vessel has been barred from disembarking passengers at every port since she departed Punta Arenas in Chile on 12 March.
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Four passengers have died aboard the Zaandam, including a 75-year-old British man, John Carter. His widow remains on board in isolation.
Nine people on board have tested positive for Covid-19 and 219 have reported flu-like symptoms.
Around 250 other passengers remain aboard the Zaandam, along with 602 crew.
A further 808 passengers who were free of symptoms were transferred from the stricken ship to a sister vessel, Rotterdam, off the coast of Panama.
The two ships then passed through the canal and sailed across the Caribbean to Florida. During the voyage, 14 of the passengers transferred to the Rotterdam have developed flu-like symptoms.
The vessels are currently 20 miles east of Fort Lauderdale.
Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, had told Fox News: “We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources.”
But Mr Trump used part of his coronavirus briefing on Wednesday to insist that British and Canadian passengers would be allowed off the Zaandam and Rotterdam.
He said: “You have people that are sick on those ships and states don’t want to take – they have enough problems right now.
“They don’t want to take them but we have to from a humane standpoint. We don’t have a choice. I don’t want to do that but we have to. People are dying, we’re going to do something.
“We’re taking the Canadians off and giving them to Canadian authorities. They’re going to bring them back home. The same thing with the UK.
“We have to help the people. We have to do something. And the governor knows that, too.”
Holland America Line said: “We appreciate the support of President Trump in resolving the humanitarian plight of our guests – 311 of whom are American citizens and 52 of whom are residents of Florida.
“There are also four children under the age of 12 on board.”
In a statement it said: “Holland America Line calls for compassion and reason in the review and approval of our disembarkation plan by Florida officials and we are grateful for those that have supported our efforts.
“For the estimated less than 10 people who need immediate critical care shoreside, we have secured approval from a local health system partner that they will accept them for treatment.”
The cruise line said passengers who were in good health and needed to fly home would be taken straight to the airport on buses “with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks”.
But 45 other passengers who have mild illness will be held in isolation on board.
“Disembarkation would be at a later date to be determined and only after they have recovered,” Holland America Line said.
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