Aust tourists set to leave horror cruise

The Zaandam, which has been waiting off the Florida coast, will be allowed to disembark passengers.
The Zaandam, which has been waiting off the Florida coast, will be allowed to disembark passengers.

Australians and more than 2000 other passengers and crew trapped on two cruise ships off the coast of Florida for fear they may spread the coronavirus will soon end their nightmare voyages.

The holidaymakers on Holland America's Zaandam and Rotterdam cruise ships have had their dream vacations destroyed with South American nations refusing to allow them to dock, four elderly passengers dying and others needing immediate critical care.

At least two of the deaths were from COVID-19 while 97 passengers and 136 crew on both ships displayed "influenza-like symptoms", the cruise company said.

More than a hundred Australians are among those on board, with guests not leaving the ship since March 14 and having to self-isolate in their rooms since March 22.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis initially refused to allow the two ships to dock because he did not want sick passengers "dumped" in his state.

The Republican governor changed his mind on Thursday after US President Donald Trump said the passengers should be treated better.

"They're dying on the ship," Mr Trump said at Wednesday's White House press conference.

"I'm going to do what's right, not only for us but for humanity."

The ships were expected to dock at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday under strict protocols.

Passengers fit for travel will be transferred "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 sanitised, with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks," Holland America said in a statement.

The Zaandam embarked on a South America cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was originally scheduled to end in 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 US.

The Zaandam was allowed to sail through the Panama Canal into the Caribbean on Sunday.

Passengers who passed a medical screening were moved onto sister ship, the Rotterdam.

There were 808 guests and 583 crew on the Rotterdam and 442 guests and 603 crew on the Zaandam.

Australian Associated Press