A virus-hit cruise ship with around ten Irish citizens on board has docked in Florida.

Most of the passengers from the Zaandam and its sister ship the Rotterdam will begin disembarking today.

They will be taken by bus to a nearby airport and flown home on charter flights.

After being refused access to various ports and left stranded at sea, the Zaandam and its sister ship finally docked last night in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Critically ill passengers were taken off first and transferred by ambulance to local hospitals.

Passengers with symptoms will remain on board the ship for treatment.

Local Florida residents were allowed leave last night.

Those from further afield will be taken by bus today to Fort Lauderdale Airport and flown home on charter flights.

Efforts are under way to get the Irish citizens home.

Officials at the Irish Embassy in Washington are working with their British counterparts on repatriation options.

Arrival of the ships capped a nearly three-week ordeal during which about 100 passengers and dozens of crew aboard the Zaandam reported influenza-like illness and four passengers died as numerous Latin American ports along its route refused the vessel's entry.

Nearly two-thirds of the Zaandam's original passengers - those who cleared a medical screening - were transferred to the Rotterdam before the ships were granted passage through the Panama Canal on Sunday.

The Zaandam had departed Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 7 March for what was to have been a 20-day voyage to Chile.

A second leg of the cruise had been due to end in Fort Lauderdale on 7 April.