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Virus-hit cruise ship which is carrying Irish citizens docks in Florida

Four people have died on board the MS Zaandam which was refused entry by a number of South American countries.

Stock image of MS Zaandam.
Stock image of MS Zaandam.
Image: Shutterstock/pho.stories

A VIRUS-HIT CRUISE ship with dozens of ill passengers and crew has docked in Florida after being barred from several South American countries, concluding a harrowing time at sea for those stranded aboard.

A number of Irish citizens, believed to be around 10, are on board the Holland America Line cruise ship which is tied up at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, with its sister ship the Rotterdam not far behind.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it is in contact with the Irish citizens onboard the ship and is offering consular assistants to passengers. 

At a briefing this morning, assistant secretary to the Department of the Taoiseach, Elizabeth Canavan said more than 2,000 Irish citizens in 86 countries are trying to return to Ireland with the Government’s help.

Its arrival in Florida comes after days of protracted negotiations about whether they should be allowed to enter Florida, and how they could safely dock and disembark – as concerns mounted for the passengers. 

Four people have died on the Zaandam for reasons not yet disclosed.

“We are so happy to be able to get our guests home and assist those few who need additional medical services,” said Holland America president Orlando Ashford.

“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.”

All told, 107 passengers and 143 crew reported flu-like symptoms during the voyage, but many have since recovered.

A total of 14 people — 13 passengers and one crew member — are to be taken to a hospital in Florida, officials said.

“We have one hospital that is able to take some of the critically ill. They have the capacity to do that,” said Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis.

A total of 1,250 passengers and 1,186 crew members were stranded at sea on the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, which came to its sister ship’s aid last week, loaded with supplies.

DeSantis initially said he did not want the ships to dock, for fear the ill passengers would tax the state’s already strained health care system.

With more than 8,000 coronavirus cases and at least 128 deaths, the Sunshine State – home to many retirees – has the fifth-most cases in the United States.

But late Wednesday, DeSantis changed his tune, telling Fox News that he had not realized there were US citizens involved.

“We actually have Floridians” aboard the Zaandam, he said.

President Donald Trump had said the ships needed to be evacuated, saying: “We have to help the people. They’re in big trouble.”

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said Holland America, which is owned by Carnival, had agreed to a “strict set of protocols” governing how the passengers would disembark.

“It’s all going to be done in ways that are not going to expose the people of Florida to any of the illnesses that may be on there,” DeSantis told Fox News on Thursday.

Most of the passengers, from a variety of countries, are expected to be deemed “fit for travel” after health checks, and will return home through a combination of charter flights and private cars.

With reporting from AFP. 

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