The ship with supplies and tests is expected to arrive on March 26.


Thousands of people stuck on a pair of Holland America Line cruise ships with sick passengers have been cleared to disembark after docking in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., according to the company. 

Passengers on the Zaandam as well as Rotterdam, which deployed to help with the sick passengers, have been quarantined in their rooms since March 22 after dozens of passengers and crew reported flu-like symptoms. Since then, 90 passengers and 143 crew members have fallen ill on the Zaandam, while 17 passengers are now sick on the Rotterdam. 

In total, there are now 442 guests and 603 crew on the Zaandam and 808 guests and 583 crew on the Rotterdam. 

Four passengers on the Zaandam also passed away. 

“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,” Orlando Ashford, the president of Holland America Line, said in a statement. “We are so happy to be able to get our guests home and assist those few who need additional medical services. The COVID-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our shared humanity, and we must do everything we can to ensure we continue to act in ways consistent with our common human dignity.” 

In what has become a common plight for those still on ships amid the coronavirus pandemic, meals on the Zaandam were served in passengers' rooms and all public areas were closed as it sailed back toward Florida. After the Zaandam was stranded, a second Holland America Line ship, the Rotterdam, met it at sea to provide COVID-19 test kits and extra supplies on March 26.

The Rotterdam, which didn’t have any guests on board at the time, left Puerto Vallarta in Mexico on March 22.

Holland America Zaandam cruise ship
The Zaandam ship cruise, sailing under the Dutch flag and operated by the Holland America (Carnival) group, with 1,800 people on board, is seen in Punta Arenas, in southern Chile, on March 16, 2020. The cruise ship with 42 passengers complaining of flu-like symptoms is still looking on March 24 for a place for its sick passengers to disembark before continuing on to its final destination in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, via the Panama Canal.
| Credit: CLAUDIO MONGE/Getty Images

When guests are finally allowed to disembark, they will go through a health screening. Those who can travel will be transferred to the airport for a flight home or allowed to drive home if they live in Florida. Those who have symptoms will remain on the ship, according to the cruise line.

On March 13, Holland America announced it was suspending its cruises, but eight ships — including the Zaandam, which was originally scheduled to dock on March 21 in San Antonio, Chile — were still out at sea.

The quarantined ship — that previously received supplies on March 20 and 21 in Valparaiso, Chile — had set sail on March 7 from Buenos Aires with the intention of traveling through South America. No one has been off the ship since March 14 when it stopped in Punta Arenas, Chile, according to Holland America.

“Out of an abundance of caution and immediately after noting the early signs of elevated numbers of illness, all guests were asked to remain in their staterooms on March 22,” Holland America said in a previous statement. “Zaandam is following response protocols that have been developed in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since it is flu season, and COVID-19 testing is not currently available on board, it is difficult to determine the cause of these elevated cases at this time.”

While many cruise lines have temporarily cancelled itineraries, the Zaandam is not the only ship to get stuck out in the ocean. Earlier this week, more than 100 American passengers who were stranded on a Silversea Cruises ship in Brazil were flown back to the U.S. At least one of those passengers was diagnosed with coronavirus.

And last week, passengers on a stranded British ship, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ the Braemar, were flown home to the U.K. after several of them were diagnosed with the coronavirus.

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