Ships with coronavirus patients dock in Florida

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Two cruise ships are anchored offshore past a lifeguard tower, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A cruise ship that had at least two passengers die of coronavirus while barred from South American ports finally docked Thursday in Florida after two weeks at sea and days of negotiations with initially resistant local officials.

The Zaandam and a sister ship sent to help it, the Rotterdam, were both given permission to unload passengers at Port Everglades after hammering out an agreement with officials who feared it would divert needed resources from a region that has seen a spike in virus cases.

Broward County officials and Holland America, the company that operates the ships, announced that an agreement had been reached shortly before the ships were seen pulling into port.

Holland America initially said 45 people who were mildly ill would stay on board until they recovered, but the docking plan released later Thursday indicated that 26 passengers and 50 crew members were ill. The plan noted that the company had secured access at two local hospitals for 13 passengers and a crew member who needed medical care.

For nearly three weeks, passengers have not been able to step on dry land. Four elderly passengers died on the Zaandam, at least two from COVID-19, said William Burke, chief maritime officer for Carnival Corp., which owns the ships. Nine people had tested positive for the new coronavirus, Burke said earlier this week.

There were 442 guests and 603 crew on the Zaandam, and 808 guests and 583 crew on the Rotterdam. The Rotterdam was sent last week to take in some of the passengers and provide assistance to the Zaandam since it was denied permission to dock at ports in South America.

About 250 people have reported influenza-like symptoms since March 22, including 17 aboard the Rotterdam, according to the docking plan.

Originally firmly opposed to the ships’ arrival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that he had a change of heart after realizing many passengers were U.S. citizens and about 50 of them Floridians.