A Northern Ireland Ireland couple were among more than 1,000 cruise ship passengers who were preparing last night to step on land for the first time in a month - but not before two died of Covid-19 and at least 10 more took ill.
Limavady couple Heather and David Lynch are in good health but were devastated last night when the captain of the Coral Princess announced two people had died onboard.
The liner finally docked yesterday in the Port of Miami after the sea odyssey that saw the ship barred from disembarking passengers at several South American ports.
Approximately 400 UK citizens, including at least eight from Northern Ireland, are preparing to fly home from Florida on chartered flights either today or tomorrow.
Two female passengers from the United States and travelling in the same party died of Covid-19 after contracting the coronavirus.
A further 10 are confirmed to have contracted the virus, five guests and five crew.
Heather and David Lynch, who were quarantined in their cabin from last Tuesday, said they were in good health.
But David described it as "terrible news" when the captain announced that two passengers had died.
He added: "We are now docking at Miami. The very sick passengers are to get off and then Americans.
"We appear to have flights for Sunday or Monday. We all are to be health checked and if we're OK allowed to go to the airport.
"Heather and I are in good health so far. Princess Cruises have been terrific dealing with this nightmare, they are doing all they can for us.
"I feel so sorry for the medical team onboard because they are really overwhelmed."
Princess Cruises said: "Disembarkation of guests is expected to take several days due to limited flight availability. Guests requiring shoreside medical care will be prioritised to disembark first."
There were 1,898 people on the ship - 1,020 passengers and 878 crew.
The ship set sail on March 5 from San Antonio near Santiago in Chile and was scheduled to end in Buenos Aires on March 19, but was refused entry to the city's port, then at Montevideo in Uruguay and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
In Argentina, some passengers were allowed to leave the ship to catch flights, but returned after missing them.
Health officials also spent six hours onboard the vessel carrying out health checks on passengers.
On Friday, the ship's operators were told it could not dock and disembark at its expected destination, Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale, by order of the US Coast Guard, which described the vessel as "an unacceptable risk of medical emergency".
Two cruise ships, under the Holland America brand and like Princess Cruises owned by Carnival Corporation, were allowed to dock on Thursday evening.
Four people died on one of the ships.
During a Friday evening Press conference, President Donald Trump said he made the final call: "We could have let them float aimlessly into the ocean looking for port, as they've been doing for a long time. And I made the decision we had to take them in."
Yesterday morning, it was abruptly announced that the ship would be allowed to dock in Miami.