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Parents of Fernandina Beach woman were stranded on Zaandam cruise ship

Ship given permission to dock in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday

Richard and Kathy Wiseniewski were stranded aboard the Vaandam with dozens of sick passengers.
Richard and Kathy Wiseniewski were stranded aboard the Vaandam with dozens of sick passengers. (Inset is family photo/background photo from Associated Press)

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – A Fernandina Beach woman heard late Thursday that her parents, who were among 442 passengers stuck on the Zaandam, one of two cruise ships quarantined off the coast of South Florida, will likely be on dry land again soon.

Four elderly passengers have 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 have tested positive for the new coronavirus, Burke said.

Amy Wilking got voicemail Thursday from her father, who is aboard the Zaandam.

“It looks like we may get off the ship today,” the man said in the voicemail. “They came out with a new questionnaire which says do you have a new or worsening cough. And we don’t. And we can answer the questionnaire and they’ll take our temperature and will be good to go, I think.”

Wilking said hearing his voice is just one step forward in getting relief.

“There are so many times we thought we were getting good news and then you start to celebrate and then something changes, Wilking said.

The ship awaiting approval to dock in South Florida. The cruise line said the 45 guests who are still mildly ill and unfit to travel would continue to isolate on board until recovered. They would be allowed to leave only after they have recovered sufficiently under CDC guidelines.

“That was really kind of a shock. I don’t think anyone was expecting to hear that and in talking to my parents it was a shock to them on the ship as well. They hadn’t realized that people were in that urgent of a situation because they all been confined to their cabins,” Wilking said.

Amid growing concerns of illnesses, guests onboard haven't left the ship since March 14, and have been self-isolated since March 22.

The cruise line said the 45 guests who are still mildly ill and unfit to travel would continue to isolate onboard until recovered. They would be allowed to leave only after they have recovered sufficiently under CDC guidelines.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said they’ll accept the 52 Floridians on board, but he’s concerned with how much space is in the hospitals in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“And I think the administration has seen a lot of the cruise ships take up a lot of resources and so we just want to get to a point where the resources can be used for the folks here, particularly in southern Florida where we have most of our problems with COVID-19 and not divert those elsewhere,” DeSantis explained.

Wilking said with the hundreds of people like her parents on board, they are just ready to get off.

“These people on the ship, they’re not looking to get off and go play on the beaches and go walk around communities. They just are trying to get home,” she said.

Holland America, which is owned by Carnival Cruise Line, said guests fit for travel will go straight from the ship to flights home. They’ll be transported in sanitized coaches, wearing masks, and with the limited person to person contact.


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