Ill-fated cruise ships have docked in Florida after weeks at sea

Cruise ships finally dock

UPDATE: 7:40 p.m.

Two cruise ships with Canadian passengers aboard finally docked Thursday in Florida after weeks at sea and days of negotiations with initially resistant local officials.

The MS Zaandam and a sister ship, the MS Rotterdam, were both given permission to unload passengers at Port Everglades after reaching an agreement with officials who feared they would divert needed resources from a region that has seen a spike in virus cases.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canadians would stay in isolation upon their return to Canada. Trudeau said a chartered plane would carry asymptomatic Canadian passengers aboard the ships home in the coming days, though he didn't provide an exact timeline.

But Catherine McLeod of Ottawa, who was on the Zaandam with her husband before they were transferred to the Rotterdam, said she was preparing to come home, even before American officials gave the ships the go-ahead to dock in Florida.

"It's kind of a done deal we're getting off this pleasure cruise," McLeod said in a phone interview from her cabin. "So we're very, very hopeful. I will feel 100 per cent better once the plane lifts off the runway. It's going to be one hell of a Hallelujah hoot going up then."

She said she and her husband were waiting for a medical check-up to make sure they remained asymptomatic before getting their "disembarkation" papers.

"I think what they're trying to do is get our fannies on a bus and outta here ASAP," McLeod said.

Holland America, which operates the cruises, said U.S. officials at the local, state and national levels cleared both ships to dock on Thursday afternoon, and would allow all guests fit to travel to disembark.

"Guests who still have symptoms will remain on board and disembark at a later date to be finalized after they have fully recovered," the cruise line said.

Global Affairs Canada said the passengers would be screened after the ships docked. It said passengers showing no symptoms will travel to Canada on a flight chartered by the cruise line.

ORIGINAL: 6:45 a.m.

Two ill-fated cruise ships waited just off Fort Lauderdale's shores on Thursday to learn when they'll be allowed to dock at Port Everglades after Carnival Cruise Line reached a conditional agreement with authorities in Florida.

Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine said on Twitter that a final document would be released Thursday morning.

In an email sent Wednesday night, Holland America said it has received approval from a health system in Fort Lauderdale to treat fewer than 10 people “who need immediate critical care.”

Meanwhile, it's awaiting confirmation to disembark passengers and “get the nearly 1,200 well guests home immediately," as long as they are fit for travel in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“Guests fit for travel per the CDC would transfer straight from the ship to flights for onward travel home, the majority on charter flights," the statement said. “Out of an abundance of caution, these guests will be transported in coaches that will be sanitized, with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks."

The company said the provisions “well exceed what the CDC have advised is necessary for their travel," adding that guests have not left the ship since March 14 and have self-isolated in their staterooms since March 22.

Passenger Laura Gabaroni was transferred to the Rotterdam, along with husband Jaun Huergo and other passengers not showing signs of illness. She told The Associated Press early Thursday that they had not been updated by the captain about plans for disembarking from the ship.

Gabaroni and Huergo, both defence contractors in Orlando, set sail on a dream vacation aboard the Zaandam the day before the U.S. State Department advised people to avoid cruise travel and before any substantial restrictions were in place in Florida.

The cruise line said in the statement that about 45 guests who still have mild illness and are unfit to travel at this time will continue to isolate on board until recovered. They would be allowed to leave only after they have recovered and are in alignment with CDC guidelines for being fit to travel.

The statement said that since March 22, 97 guests and 136 crew members have reported influenza-like symptoms. There are 808 guests and 583 crew on Rotterdam, and 442 guests and 603 crew on the Zaandam. there are four children under the age of 12 on board, the statement said.

The Zaandam set sail from Buenos Aires on March 7 and was originally scheduled to end at San Antonio, Chile on March 21. The cruise was stranded off the coast of Panama after it was not allowed to dock in Chile and other ports along its path.

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