While all healthy passengers have now disembarked Holland America Line’s Zaandam, the evacuation of passengers from Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess is ongoing with both cruise lines arranging charter flights home.
Zaandam arrived in Fort Lauderdale last week after spending several weeks at sea with several dozen passengers showing symptoms of COVID-19, the novel Coronavirus that has become a global pandemic.
She was accompanied by her sister ship Rotterdam, which was sent to rendezvous with Zaandam so that healthy passengers could be tendered across at sea, minimizing the risk of further infection, as seen aboard Diamond Princess in February.
Zaandam had set sail from Argentina at the beginning of March for a two-week South American cruise, just before COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic. Each passenger and crewmember had undergo a medical screen before boarding and everyone had passed.
Seven days into the cruise, ports across the world started shutting down cruise operations as the pandemic spread, and the vulnerability of cruise ships to an outbreak became apparent.
The cruise wasn’t due to end until March 21st in San Antonio, Chile, but no South American port would let the ship dock. Then some passengers and crew began to feel ill and the captain ordered everyone to their cabins to quarantine.
In the ensuring weeks, as Zaandam sought a safe haven, four passengers died. The cruise ship waited days outside the Panama Canal trying to get permission to transit, before finally being allowed through so that it could head for Florida.
Rotterdam was sent to meet up with the Zaandam off the Panamanian coast and provide extra medical supplies and tests and transfer the healthy passengers there. By then, dozens of passengers and crew members were sick with several testing positive for COVID-19.
After several days of begging the US government for help, the ship was allowed to dock last week in Fort Lauderdale and healthy passengers began leaving the ship on Friday while sick passengers remained on board.
All disembarking passengers were put on a bus and driven directly to a chartered flight out of the state.
The same is now being done aboard Coral Princess in PortMiami. The ship departed from San Antonio, Texas, US, on March 5th and was scheduled to end the journey on March 19th at Buenos Aires, Argentina.
However, due to port closures, changing regulations and flight cancellations, guests could not disembark the ship at Buenos Aires as previously planned. It headed for the US, where authorities in Miami allowed it to dock after a detailed plan was submitted for disembarkation.
That plan involved getting passengers off the ship and to their home cities without boarding any commercial flights, even though passengers being disembarked have no symptoms of the virus (24 sick passengers were transferred to hospital).
With 90 of the ship’s 1,000 passengers still onboard on Wednesday, Princess Cruises said it had another nine charter flights scheduled and planned to have all passengers off the ship by Thursday.
On Wednesday, passengers left in two private jet charters bound for Bermuda, said Miami-Dade spokesperson Greg Chin. Five charter flights are scheduled for Thursday to Amsterdam, Mexico, Alaska via Los Angeles, and multiple stops in South America.