Florida does not want virus-stricken cruise ship: governor

Holland America's cruise ship Zaandam as it navigates through the Panama Canal in Panama City

Florida’s governor said Monday that he does not want a cruise ship with passengers suspected to be suffering from coronavirus to dock in his southern US state.

The Holland America Line vessel, the Zaandam, passed through the Panama Canal overnight as the company searched for a port that will allow passengers to disembark.

“We view this as a big, big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in southern Florida right now,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told Fox News.

“We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida,” he said. “I’m in contact with the White House on this.”

The Zaandam, which is carrying 1,800 passengers, went through the Panama Canal from the Pacific side overnight and into the Caribbean after canal authorities reversed a decision to block its passage.

It was followed a couple of hours later by its sister ship, the Rotterdam, which the company dispatched from San Diego to take on the healthiest of the passengers aboard the Zaandam.

The Zaandam had been stuck in the Pacific Ocean since March 14 after dozens of those on board reported flu-like symptoms — including four who subsequently died — and several South American ports refused to let it dock.

Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford said in a video message that the company was trying to find a destination for the stricken ship.

AFP / Luis AcostaHolland America’s cruise ship Zaandam as it enters Panama Bay off the coast of Panama City

Ashford said the mayor of Fort Lauderdale — which had been the ship’s intended destination — had also said the Florida city could not take the risk of accepting the passengers.

The situation was “difficult and unprecedented,” Ashford said.

– ‘Completely unacceptable’ –

AFP / Ivan PISARENKOHolland America’s cruise ship Zaandam (L) and the Rotterdam in Panama Bay

Fort Lauderdale mayor Dean Trantalis said allowing the Zaandam to dock in his city was “completely unacceptable” because no special assurances have been given about the passengers’ onward travel arrangements.

“No assurances have been given that they will be escorted from the ship to either a treatment facility or placed in quarantine. This is completely unacceptable,” Trantalis said on Twitter.

“We cannot add further risk to our community,” Trantalis said.

“There are many places on the eastern seaboard where this ship could dock and be dealt with in a much more controlled environment,” he said.

“The problem here is that Port Everglades sits in the very middle of a vast urban area.”

AFP/File / Luis AcostaPassengers aboard the Holland America’s cruise ship Zaandam

Passengers showing no signs of the virus were ferried to the Rotterdam off Panama on Saturday. The Rotterdam had arrived from San Diego carrying medical staff, testing kits and food for the beleaguered vessel.

In his message, Ashford said he wanted to dispel a “myth” that one was a “healthy ship” and the other a “sick ship.”

“Whether you’re isolated on the Zaandam or isolated on the Rotterdam, the way that we protect the health of those of you that are healthy is to make sure that you’re isolated safely while we figure out where it is that we’re going to take you.”

Apologizing to passengers, Ashford said: “It’s been a tough last several days.”

The Zaandam left Buenos Aires on March 7 and was supposed to arrive two weeks later at San Antonio, near Santiago, Chile.

Since a brief stop in Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia on March 14, it has been turned away from several ports after reporting that some people aboard were suffering from flu-like symptoms.

US passenger Laura Gabaroni pleaded for help Sunday, saying that the ports that had turned the Zaandam away would have the deaths of passengers on their conscience.

“Four people are now dead, and that is on the head of all the people along the way who turned us away,” Gabaroni told AFP.

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