SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – A cruise ship stranded at sea for weeks and carrying a couple from Seminole County was given the green-light to dock in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday amid concerns about the novel coronavirus.
Holland America said it struck an agreement with Broward County officials to bring in its Rotterdam and Zaandam cruise ships as cases of coronavirus were diagnosed on one of the ships.
"We have just received word that the ships were cleared to dock in Port Everglades, this afternoon," said Seminole County resident Laura Gabaroni from on board the Rotterdam. "We are beyond excited. We will go through the necessary process to begin our journey home and reunite with our family."
They left the ship at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday after being at sea since March 7.
Part of the agreement between Holland America's parent company Carnival and Broward County includes strict protocols for the ill passengers on board the Zaandam.
Guests will be health screened and cleared for entry by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to Holland America.
"Guests who still have symptoms will remain on board and disembark at a later date to be finalized after they have fully recovered and meet the CDC guidelines for being fit to travel," according to Holland America. "They will continue to be well cared for on board by the ships’ medical staffs."
Healthy passengers will transfer straight from the ship onto buses for a trip directly to the airport for their flights home. The majority will leave on charter flights.
Holland America said local Florida residents will return home immediately via private car.
They expect disembarkation to be completed by Friday afternoon.
They said guests have not left the ship since March 14 and have self-isolated in their staterooms since March 22.
Since that date, 90 people on board the Zaandam and 17 people on board the Rotterdam have displayed symptoms of COVID-19.
Four people died on board the Zaandam, according to the cruise line.
There are 311 Americans on board, and 52 are residents of Florida.