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Seven cruise ships returning to Florida now on high alert for coronavirus

The Regal Princess cruise ship docked at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Seven cruise ships are expected to dock at the port in the next four days, before all cruise sailings are suspended because of the coronavirus.

CARLINE JEAN, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL/TNS

By MARC FREEMAN | Sun Sentinel | Published: March 17, 2020

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — With seven cruise ships expected to arrive back in Fort Lauderdale this week, no passengers will reach land until it is deemed safe, officials say.

There’s a heightened concern about infections — especially because three employees based at Port Everglades recently tested positive for the coronavirus. The ships are bringing back thousands of vacationers.

Ellen Kennedy, spokeswoman for the port, said a unified command has been set up, where a cruise ship is allowed to disembark passengers only after there are “concurrent approvals” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Health Department in Broward County as well as the Coast Guard, Broward Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Customs & Border Protection.

One of the returning vessels on Tuesday is the Queen Victoria cruise liner, which has been sailing for the past 56 days.

The Cunard ship, with about 3,000 passengers and crew members, left Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 22 for a South American voyage that included stops in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and the Panama Canal. It docked at Port Everglades early Tuesday. In a statement to the port, Cunard confirmed that the cruise line is suspending operations and new voyages for the next 30 days.

“The ship (the Queen Victoria) is currently in Port Everglades and in line with new restrictions, those guests who were due to disembark in Port Everglades will be permitted to do so, however, no other guests or crew will be allowed to ashore or on board. Queen Victoria will then sail straight to Southampton and conclude her itinerary earlier than planned. Guests who were due to disembark in Hamburg will be repatriated from Southampton,” the statement said.

In a video message posted on Twitter, the company president, Simon Palethorpe, said: “It has become evident, however, that the situation is far from over, and we are advised that the virus is not yet at its peak for the majority of the world.”

The Queen Victoria docked at Port Everglades amid pandemic shutdowns due to the coronavirus. The cruise industry has suspended new sailings in an effort to limit the spread of the disease.

Another cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas, has been parked in the waters off Fort Lauderdale beach. Passengers got off that boat Saturday after all was deemed OK.

There are three other cruises expected back in Broward on Tuesday: the Island Princess, which has been gone for 10 days; the Celebrity Reflection, coming back after a four-day cruise; and Serenade of the Seas, also returning after just four days away.

Two Holland America Line cruises, the Zuiderdam and Veendam, are scheduled to return to Port Everglades on Wednesday, after 10- and 12-day cruises.

The last ship scheduled to set anchor is Holland America’s Volendam, as early as Friday, Kennedy said. It departed from Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 5, and its itinerary included four days around coronavirus-free Antarctica.

After that, cruise activity at the port should get quiet.

Last week, Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Disney and Viking cruise lines announced worldwide suspensions of about a month because of efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Staff photographer Joe Cavaretta contributed to this report.

©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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