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Coronavirus Update: Holland America Cruise Ships With Sick Passengers Dock At Port Everglades

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – The nightmare at sea is almost over for people on a pair of Holland America cruise shipsthat had no place to go.

Hundreds of people remain onboard the Zaandam and Rotterdam cruise ships at Port Everglades on Thursday night.

South Florida residents onboard the ships are home while some sick and coronavirus-positive passengers remain under quarantine onboard until they're well enough to leave. Beginning Friday, the long process begins to get more than 1,100 healthy passengers to their homes.

After days at sea and their fate up in the air, the pair of Holland America cruise ships docked at Port Everglades Thursday afternoon.

The docking follows an agreement that would allow them to pull into the port.

Click here to read the agreement in its entirety.

First responders removed more than a dozen sick passengers from the ships and ferried them to a nearby hospital while limos lined up waiting to take healthy South Florida passengers home and workers sanitized countless pieces of luggage before passengers took it home.

Glenn Wiltshire is acting chief director for Port Everglades. He says he's never seen an effort like the one undertaken to bring these ships into port under these circumstances.

"It is an unprecedented situation for us here at Port Everglades," he said. "Literally, probably hundreds of people were involved in the whole logistics chain."

Broward County Mayor Dale Holness explained what led to the decision to allow the ships to dock at Port Everglades, despite the opinions of many who felt the ships should stay away since some on board have COVID-19. Holness said the green light came because of the dozens of Floridians on board.

"That was a major part of our consideration that we had residents from South Florida on that ship and that we had fellow Americans on that ship," he said. "That's why we worked so diligently to make sure we didn't leave any of our people at sea."

At this point, 13 passengers who are seriously ill will be taken to Broward Health Medical Center or Larkin Community Hospital.

Some passengers have already been transferred for treatment.

"Tonight we coordinated and executed the transfer of critically ill patients from partnering cruise ships. Our number one priority now is caring for these patients," said Heather Havericak, CEO of Broward Health Medical Center, in a statement. "We thank our caregivers for providing essential care to these patients and our community, and we offer thanks to our local, state and federal leaders for their incredible support."

Another 26 passengers who have mild symptoms will remain on board to be treated and quarantined. Crew members will remain on the vessels. There are four passengers who died onboard the Zaandam.

Thursday evening drivers took South Florida passengers home. On Friday and Saturday, buses will begin taking healthy passengers to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

All passengers coming off the ship will wear masks and have their temperature taken.

Healthy passengers who are flying will be driven directly to the tarmac and will directly board charter planes.

Officials say the passengers will not go into the airport and all passengers are being told to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

"It is a solution that provides for the wellbeing of the residents of Broward County," Holness said.

Diane Smith and her husband are on board the Zaandam. They live in Ocala. They're healthy can't wait to get out of their cabin that they've been in for days, breathe some fresh air and celebrate Diane's birthday, which is Thursday.

"It's a good birthday present," she said. "Happy to have it made extra special."

This unprecedented situation might be repeated, though, in the near future. Another cruise ship, the Coral Princess, is scheduled to dock at Port Everglades Saturday and reports say there are people with coronavirus onboard.

"If people onboard are sick, the same protocols that are being used for these two ships will be applied to that ship," Wiltshire said.

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