Trump intervenes to allow coronavirus-struck cruise ship to dock in Florida

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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Four people dead and hundreds of Britons ‘stranded’ on cruise ship

More than 200 British people are aboard a cruise ship off the coast of Panama on which four passengers have died.

The MS Zaandam, a Holland America Line vessel, has been sailing north from Chile with 1,243 passengers and 586 crew on board. She is currently about 10 miles south of Panama City, according to the tracking service, Cruise Mapper.

The voyage was due to finish in San Antonio in Chile a week ago. But all ports along the coast of South America have refused permission for the ship to dock and disembark passengers.

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More than 140 people on board are suffering from “flu-like symptoms,” and at least two of them are reported to have tested positive for coronavirus.

Vanessa Lucas, from Stafford, tweeted: “My in-laws are stuck on the Zaandam cruise ship with four dead from Covid-19. We are extremely concerned and worried about them.”

Reuters is reporting that a ship’s officer made an on-board announcement on Friday that one passenger had died “several days” earlier followed by two deaths on Thursday and another in the early hours of Friday.

Deaths from natural causes are not unusual on cruise ships, because of the older age profile of passengers. But for four to pass away within a few days is very rare.

The cruise line’s original intention was to pass through the Panama Canal on Friday and reach Fort Lauderdale in Florida by Monday.

But the Panamanian authorities have so far refused to allow Zaandam to transit the canal between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

In a bid to secure permission, Holland America Line dispatched another cruise ship, MS Rotterdam, with crew only on board.

Passengers who are not displaying symptoms that could be coronavirus are being transferred from one ship to another.

Rotterdam will then seek permission to transit the Panama Canal and proceed to Fort Lauderdale – though there is concern in that city over whether the ship should be allowed to dock.

Zaandam is expected to sail northwest along the Pacific Coast to San Diego, where there is a big US naval base as well as cruise facilities.

The Independent has been told that a “secret” call was made by Zaandam at Guayaquil in Ecuador to take on essential supplies, but this report has not been independently substantiated.

No passengers have been allowed ashore since they left Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chile three weeks ago.

Fort Lauderdale is also the destination for Coral Princess, whose passengers were refused permission to disembark at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

She is currently about 50 miles north of Fortaleza on the northeast coast of Brazil, making for Barbados. The ship will be calling at the island’s capital, Bridgetown, on the evening of Tuesday, 31 March for essential supplies.

A Princess Cruises statement said: “During the short time at the port, extra provisions will be brought onboard to keep all guests comfortable during the onward journey.”

Coral Princess is believed to have over 400 British passengers on board. There have been calls for UK citizens to be allowed to disembark in Barbados and be flown home on government-organised flights.

Debbie Betts tweeted the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab to demand action: “Come on FCO, you’re still sending flights to Peru and South Africa to bring English nationals home – what about sending a plane to Barbados to meet this ship and bring the Brits home?”

But Princess Cruises said: “No guests or crew will be permitted to disembark during this time.”

A lockdown and overnight curfew begins today in Barbados and will continue until 14 April. 

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