British nationals trapped on cruise ship return to UK

By Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

Holidaymakers who were on board a cruise liner stranded at sea due to a fatal Covid-19 outbreak have expressed anger at how the ship was treated, as they finally returned to the UK.

One passenger arriving at Heathrow said “nobody would open their doors”, after several Latin American countries refused to let Holland America Line’s Zaandam dock because of fears about the virus.

Healthy passengers were offloaded on to its sister ship, the Rotterdam.

The liners attempted to dock in the US state of Florida earlier this week, but local officials were also reluctant to take in more Covid-19 patients.

President Donald Trump intervened to allow the docking, and dozens of UK nationals finally disembarked and flew from Fort Lauderdale to Heathrow on Saturday.

Shortly after landing, Rodger Robertson, 72, of Worcestershire, told the PA news agency: “Humanitarian grounds went out of the window, the Americans being the Americans. Eventually they had to capitulate.”

Asked how he thought the ships were treated, he replied: “Not very well.”

The cruise ship passengers arrive back in the UK at Heathrow Airport (Victoria Jones/PA)

His wife Anne, 65, said the captain and his crew did “everything they could” to arrange medical evacuations for those who were seriously ill, but “nobody would open their doors, which was really sad”.

Morven Rae, 70, from Kenley, Surrey, said: “We felt very sorry for the people whose families had died and the countries that didn’t allow them to be airlifted off bear some responsibility for that.”

But her husband Ian, 73, praised the efforts of the cruise line in how they looked after their guests.

He said: “It was very well organised considering the difficulties they had. They did an amazing job. We had food, we were locked in our cabins but we were safe.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said 214 British nationals caught up in the saga were on the flight to Heathrow.

But some guests have been forced to remain. Holland America Line had previously said people with coronavirus symptoms “will remain on board and disembark at a later date”.

Four people died aboard the Zaandam, including two officially diagnosed with coronavirus.

Briton John Carter died on the coronavirus-stricken Zaandam cruise ship (Family/PA)

The four include 75-year-old Briton John Carter, who died on March 22. His cause of death has yet to be officially revealed but he was reported to have been on a ventilator in his last days.

More than a dozen Covid-19 cases were reported on the ship, plus some 190 people with flu symptoms.

The cruise began in Buenos Aires on March 7.