Virus-hit cruise ships not welcomed as politicians protect residents

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has said that he was concerned that permitting sick people on board cruise ships Zaandam (IMO 9156527) and Rotterdam (IMO 9122552) to disembark at Port Everglades might lead to Floridians being denied access to beds.

Broward County and Carnival Corp have yet to agree on a plan that will allow them on shore once they arrive.

After a five-hour meeting on Tuesday, commissioners rejected the company’s plan on the grounds that it was too vague. The ship was scheduled to arrive in South Florida late on Wednesday April 1st or early on Thursday, local time.

The Zaandam has seen four passengers die during a hunt for a welcoming port. It had been on a South American tour, but was turned away from Chilean ports last month just as global border controls began to be introduced in an attempt to prevent further spread of Covid-19. Last weekend nearly 800 Zaandam passengers, at the time showing no signs of viral infection, were transferred to sister ship Rotterdam. The ships have more than 1,000 crew members between them.

Now, between the two ships, nine passengers have tested positive for Covid-19, Carnival Corp chief maritime officer Bill Burke said Tuesday.

Every country between Chile and the US has turned passengers away, including Mexico, where Burke said the company had hoped to medevac two people in critical condition with Covid-19.

The cruise, which began on March 8th was scheduled to end in Chile on March 21st; with a new sailing scheduled to take passengers from South America to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, arriving April 7th. More than 400 of those currently on board originally planned to ride the ship all the way to Florida.

DeSantis told Fox News on Monday that “we cannot afford to have people who aren’t even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources,” referring to the state’s medical facilities. He told a news conference on Monday that he would prefer to send medical help to the Zaandam.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Florida officials to open Port Everglades to the Dutch cruise ships, Trump said that he would call Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (also a Republican), who has declared the vessel unwelcome, stating that he wanted to prevent sick passengers being “dumped” on his state. “They’re dying on the ship,” Trump said, adding that “I’m going to do what’s right, not only for us but for humanity.”

Those remarks contrasted with his response in February to cruise ship Grand Princess, which he said should remain at sea instead of coming into port in California.

In Tallahassee on Tuesday, DeSantis repeated that he did not want to see people from the Zaandam get off in Florida. “The best way is to be sending medical attention to the ship,” he said. “The cruise ships should be responsible for helping facilitate that. To drop people where we are having the highest number of cases, that doesn’t sound good.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Broward commissioners rejected two sets of plans from Carnival Corp., which owns both ships, that outlined an approach to disembark passengers and safely return them home. The county said that it wanted a legally binding agreement that puts the responsibility for the care of passengers and crew on board on the company.

The submitted plans, in broad strokes very similar to each other, would see the company flying the ships’ healthy passengers from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport or Miami International Airport to the West Coast, Canada, the UK and Germany via commercial and charter planes.

The ships would dock at Port Everglades, where healthy passengers would be screened, temperature checked and cleared for departure. They would then board buses to the airports. Others would have the option to drive home with their own cars, rented vehicles, or ground transit, coordinated by Carnival Corp.

Other than “gravely sick” passengers, those with mild Covid-19, flu or other respiratory issues, would stay on board. Crew would also stay on the ship. Passengers and crew with severe illness would be transferred to a local hospital’s intensive care unit.

After five hours of discussion including the Broward County Sheriff’s office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Coast Guard and Port Everglades’ officials, commissioners told the cruise company to submit another plan with updated information about the number of sick passengers and crew. The company must agree to pay for all medevac services, coordinate hospital arrangements, and sanitize any equipment used by county staff.

Burke, the Carnival Corp. executive, said 14 people between the two ships are currently showing flu-like symptoms, and two of them were seriously ill. Previous totals of those with flu-like symptoms included those who had since recovered, said Burke.

He said he felt uncomfortable pointing out the fact that Carnival Corp had 1,500 employees and 375 vendors in Broward, with a clear implication that a continued refusal by Broward to cooperate could have consequences for the cruise liner company’s association with the county. “We are not only a requester in this situation, we are also a user of your wonderful services and this ship is home-ported here,” he said.

Both ships are equipped to care for two people in critical condition, Burke said. There were 200 Covid-19 rapid-test kits on board, which can return false negatives. The Zaandam has four doctors and five nurses on board, while the Rotterdam has two doctors and four nurses. Burke assured commissioners that the company would be able to care for people with mild illness on the ship, without relying on US healthcare resources.

Around 30 ships on any day are clustered around Port Everglades and PortMiami with only crew on board, waiting to be able to cruise again after the pandemic subsides. On Monday evening, two Royal Caribbean cruise ship workers were evacuated at Port Everglades, followed by a Princess Cruises worker on Tuesday morning. All showed symptoms of Covid-19, according to a Miami Herald report.

Port Everglades director Glenn Wiltshire said the county, the Coast Guard and the CDC were not aware of Tuesday’s evacuation before it happened. Burke said Princess Cruises coordinated directly with the Broward Health system.

“If there are ships coming in with sick crew, we need to know this,” Bogen said. “Are we just letting them in? Who is checking the accuracy?…I want everyone to get home. I want to make sure your company is giving accurate information so we can properly prepare.”

New rules issued by the US Coast Guard on March 29th require notification.

Cindy Friedman, who works with the CDC’s cruise ships task force, told the commission that the agency was no longer recommending that cruise ship quarantines such as those seen on the Diamond Princess in Japan and the Grand Princess in California.

Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line, called for a port to show “compassion and grace” by allowing passengers on the Zaandam cruise liner and its sister ship, the Rotterdam, back on land.

 “We are dealing with a ‘not my problem’ syndrome. The international community, consistently generous and helpful in the face of human suffering, shut itself off to Zaandam leaving her to fend for herself”, said Ashford, “Nations are justifiably focused on the Covid-19 crisis unfolding before them. But they have turned their backs on thousands of people left floating at sea. Are these reactions based on facts from experts like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or fuelled by irrational fear? What happened to compassion and help thy neighbour?”

He concluded that “the Covid-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our common humanity. To slam the door in the face of these people betrays our deepest human values.”

2000-built, Netherlands-flagged, 61,396 gt Zaandam is owned by HAL Antillen NV care of Holland America Line NV of Seattle, Washington state, USA. It is entered with Steamship Mutual and with UK P&I Club.

1997-built, Netherlands-flagged, 61,849 gt Rotterdam is owned by Hal Nederland NV care of Holland America Line NV of Seattle, Washington, USA. It is entered with Steamship Mutual and UK Club.