ST. PAUL — A pair of cruise ships stuck at sea due to a coronavirus outbreak has been cleared to dock, according to a Florida county official, with healthier passengers and crew members allowed to leave.
Details on where and when the ships, which as of Thursday morning, April 2 were still outside of U.S. waters, have yet to be finalized. In a tweet sent that morning, Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine of Florida said federal, state and local authorities came to an agreement with the ships' owners and operators late Wednesday, April 1.
Unified Command conferenced last night and reached cond. approval of Carnival’s Plan, subject to approval between Broward and Carnival. Final document will be released this morning. As of now, ships remain outside US Waters. Look forward to seeing a SAFE plan for all to resolve— Michael Udine (@Michaeludine) April 2, 2020
Neither ship has been ashore since an earlier stop in Chile on March 14, according to parent company Holland America. Flu-like symptoms had originally been reported only aboard the Zaandam cruise ship, according to the company, but as of Wednesday evening appear to have cropped up on its sister ship, the Rotterdam.a
Four people have died on the ships during their time at sea.
Before crossing the Panama Canal, the ships arranged for Zaandam passengers and crew mates to board the Rotterdam in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.
More than 230 passengers and crew members have reported flu-like symptoms, according to a Wednesday evening statement from the cruise line. At least eight of them are confirmed to have COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Among those aboard the ships, which have enacted self-quarantine measures, are several Minnesota and North Dakota residents.
"It was a dream trip; we go on one big trip a year and before we left, there were just a few coronavirus cases in Washington, so we thought we were safe to go," said Sue Baumgartner of Fargo, who is travelling on the Zaandam with a longtime friend.
Eighty-three of the Zaandam's passengers have taken ill, according to Holland America, compared to 14 aboard the Rotterdam. No Rotterdam crew members reported feeling sick, although 136 members of the Zaandam crew have so done so thus far.
Governments have been reluctant to let the ships into port, according to statements from Holland America. The uncertainty and precariousness of their situation prompted Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., to call for their relief in a statement issued Wednesday.
Once they are cleared to disembark, "guests fit for travel" will be allowed to exit the ships, according to Holland America. The company said it has arranged for drivers to take them to the airport in sanitized cars, and that they will be able to fly home.
But 45 of the more mildly ill passengers will be required to stay in their rooms until they recover, according to the company. A local health system has agreed to make room for the estimated 10 people aboard who are critically ill.
Combined, the two ships are carrying 2,300 people.