Holland America tells cruise passengers on Rotterdam ship they won't be getting off for at least 2 more nights after weeks of being stranded at sea

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Business Insider reviewed a letter breaking down instructions for healthy Rotterdam passengers.

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  • Passengers onboard Holland America's MS Rotterdam cruise ship are set to undergo health checks and processing by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement today, according to a letter that was sent to healthy Rotterdam passengers on Tuesday. 
  • The guests will not get to leave the ship Tuesday, according to the letter, which was viewed by Business Insider. The letter stated that passengers should pack their checked luggage so that it can be picked up Tuesday, but that they should keep enough clothing and toiletries for at least two more nights in their staterooms. 
  • Four passengers have died on the Zaandam after an outbreak of respiratory illness sickened at least 233 people.
  • Nine passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.
  • Florida officials and Holland America's parent company Carnival Corp. have reached a conditional agreement regarding the disembarkation of passengers in Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades. The plan is still pending final approval from Carnival and the Florida officials
  • Are you a cruise-ship passenger or employee with a story to share? Email acain@businessinsider.com.

Guests onboard Holland America's MS Rotterdam may get a chance to step off the ship Tuesday, as they undergo health checks and processing by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But they won't be going home just yet. 

Rotterdam guests received a letter on April 2 with instructions indicating that they would undergo health and immigration process around 1:30 p.m. However, as of 2:30 p.m., neither the Rotterdam nor the Zaandam had reached their Port Everglades berths. 

"We are still waiting for the okay for them to come" Port Everglades official Ellen Kennedy told Business Insider. "They're still buttoning up some of the contact deals and stuff."

Both ships are on the schedule for Port Everglades, but Kennedy said there is no official estimated time for the ships to arrive. Currently, the times on the schedule are functioning as "holding places" for the berths, saving spots for the cruise ships.

The letter indicated that Rotterdam guests should expect to remain onboard the vessel for at least two more nights,. The passengers have been stranded at sea for several weeks. 

This comes after Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine tweeted on April 2 that the Unified Command task force and Carnival Corp. had reached a conditional agreement regarding a plan of action for the MS Zaandam and its sister ship the Rotterdam. The plan is still pending final approval from Carnival and the Florida officials. The ships have been dealing with an outbreak of respiratory illness that has sickened 233 passengers and crew members. So far, nine people have tested positive for COVID-19.

 

The April 2 letter from Holland America breaks down "all the information and steps that need to be undertaken to complete the pre-disembarkation process from the vessel" for Rotterdam guests. The document instructed passengers to pack "important personal items" like medications, valuables, and passports along with enough "clothing and toiletries for two overnights" in their carry-on luggage.

"You have been granted TSA clearance at airport, consequently your carry-on has to be packed in accordance with TSA regulations," the letter said. 

Holland America did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment, and it is unclear if any passengers on the Zaandam received such a letter. All "well guests" from the Zaandam were transferred onto the Rotterdam, while sick passengers and their close contacts remained behind.

The letter breaks down instructions for healthy Rotterdam passengers, who "will go ashore, proceed through clearance by US Immigration & Customers officials and then return on board." Because the Rotterdam has not arrived at its berth, the processing has not yet been carried out. But the document instructs guests to remain in their staterooms until their deck sections are called. 

Guests are being asked to fill out and hold onto a health questionnaire and pack and tag their checked bags. Guests have also been asked to leave the checked luggage outside their staterooms after breakfast. According to the letter, passengers "will not have access to checked luggage again until the end of your first flight."

Leaving their carry-on bags behind and holding onto their ship's ID key cards, health questionnaires, and passports, passengers are then instructed to "proceed to the gangway" when their deck sections are called. Guests will be reminded to "put on your face mask and keep it on until your return to your stateroom," according to the memo. 

At the gangway, guests will move through a health screening station for a welfare and temperature check. They will hand over their health questionnaires "and await further instructions from the Health Screening Staff."

"Once cleared health wise, you will be issued an 'Approved to Disembark' card," the letter states. "Keep it safely with you at all times for the next two days, do not lose it."

At the ship's exit gangway, those guests with an "approved to disembark" card will have their ship's ID key cards scanned. They will then be permitted to "walk off the vessel to the terminal."

"In the terminal you will be seen by Immigration & Customs Officials following which you will be redirected to the vessel," the Holland America letter said. "Your checked luggage will be in the terminal. DO NOT attempt to retrieve or touch it."

After being processed by ICE, the passengers will then be told to "re-enter the vessel, scan your ship's ID Key card and proceed directly back to your stateroom."

The Zaandam's cruise was scheduled to last 14 days, embarking from Buenos Aires on March 7. For some passengers, the cruise would end after 14 days in San Antonio, Chile. For others, it was due to reach April 7 in Fort Lauderdale. Those plans were diverted because of the coronavirus, and the cruise ship was closed out of ports across South and Central America.

According to an April 1 statement from Holland America, 45 passengers still exhibit "mild" symptoms on board the ships. In the statement, the cruise line said there were 808 guests and 583 crew on the Rotterdam. and 442 guests and 603 crew on the Zaandam.

Read Holland America's full statement from April 1:

Holland America Line is awaiting confirmation to disembark guests from Zaandam and Rotterdam in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We remain fully engaged with the Broward Unified Command and other governmental and embassy authorities to resolve this humanitarian situation and get the nearly 1,200 well guests home immediately who are fit for travel per guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Both ships are scheduled to arrive at the boundary of U.S. waters by early tomorrow morning and will remain outside U.S. waters while awaiting clearance to enter.

Guests fit for travel per the CDC would transfer straight from the ship to flights for onward travel home, the majority on charter flights. Out of an abundance of caution, these guests will be transported in coaches that will be sanitized, with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks. These provisions well exceed what the CDC have advised is necessary for their travel. Guests have not left the ship since March 14 and have self-isolated in their staterooms since March 22.

The approximately 45 guests who still have mild illness and are unfit to travel at this time will continue to isolate on board until recovered. Disembarkation would be at a later date to be determined and only after they have recovered and are in alignment with CDC guidelines for being fit to travel.

For the estimated less than ten people who need immediate critical care shoreside, we have secured approval from a local health system partner that they will accept them for treatment. This small number is the only group that will require any support from medical resources in Broward County and is necessary to prevent further harm to their health.

Since March 22, 97 guests (83 on Zaandam/14 on Rotterdam) and 136 crew on Zaandam (0 on Rotterdam) have presented with influenza-like symptoms. We have seen a significant decline in the presentation of new cases on Zaandam, with only 1 new case reporting in the past 24 hours.

There are 808 guests and 583 crew on Rotterdam. On Zaandam there are 442 guests and 603 crew.
Holland America Line calls for compassion and reason in the review and approval of our disembarkation plan by Florida officials and we are grateful for those that have supported our efforts.

We appreciate the support of President Trump in resolving the humanitarian plight of our guests – 311 of whom are American citizens and 52 of whom are residents of Florida. There are also four children under the age of 12 on board.

Due to global health concerns, Holland America Line made the decision to suspend its global cruise operations for 30 days and end its current cruises in progress as quickly as possible. At the time, Zaandam was sailing a South America cruise that began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 that was originally scheduled to end at San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. Attempts were made and denied to disembark guests in Chile on March 15 and in other ports along its route to the U.S.

On March 21, Zaandam was originally scheduled to begin a 20-day South America and Panama Canal cruise from San Antonio, Chile, and end in Fort Lauderdale on April 7. On March 30 an additional 30-day extension of cruise cancellations was announced, including departures through May 14.

Read the original article on Business Insider