FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The coronavirus pandemic left the passengers on MS Zandaam and MS Rotterdam stranded at sea, and now their fate is in the hands of Broward County commissioners.
During a discussion on Tuesday, Commissioners Nah H. Rich and Barbara Sharief said they were in favor of welcoming the passengers. Mayor Dale V.C. Holness decided they need more time to review the feasibility of a plan to allow the ships to dock at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said he has been in communication with President Donald Trump about the burden the passengers on the ships could bring to Florida’s already burdened healthcare system.
“The way to deal with this is to send medical attention to the ship,” DeSantis said, adding that it doesn’t make sense to “just drop people off” in a hot zone.
There are at least two patients aboard the MS Zandaam in need of hospitalization and 15 who tested positive, according to Carnival Corp. One recovered. Two died. People in both ships could have had contact with patients suffering from COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.
The MS Zandaam, which has COVID-19 patients, departed from Buenos Aires on March 7. The voyage got complicated when the pandemic caused ports to close. Chile turned the ships away March 16. Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba also turned them away.
Passengers started to report COVID-19-like symptoms on March 22. Four people died, but only two tested positive for COVID-19. The bodies remain on the MS Zandaam, which has at least 180 people reporting COVID-19-like symptoms. The MS Rotterdam has 1,400 people on board who are not symptomatic.
A lack of symptoms doesn’t mean a patient hasn’t been infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asymptomatic patients are also contagious.
Holland America Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp. owns and operates both ships. William Burke, the chief maritime officer at Carnival Corp., said 311 Americans are on both ships.
“We are coming to the place of last resort,” Burke said.
Burke said there is a plan in place to send everyone home. He said buses will take 250 passengers to Canada, and a charter flight will take 120 Australians. Burke also said there will be charter flights to California, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said there were non-controllable variables involved with the Americans, who have the right to change their mind and decline the cruise line’s plan.
“No one can give you the assurance that these people will board the flights,” Tony said, adding, “We will be operating under a good faith system.”
Here is the Carnival Corp. plan:
6 a.m.: MS Rotterdam arrives at Pier 2 in Port Everglades. All departing guests will be cleared for departure temperature-checked onboard prior to departure. Any with a fever will not be allowed to disembark.
6:30 a.m.: MS Zaandam arrives at Pier 4. All departing guests will be cleared for departure temperature-checked onboard prior to departure. Any with a fever will not be allowed to disembark.
6:30 a.m.: Buses positioned alongside Port Everglades Terminal at Piers 2 and 4 for transport to FLL or MIA.
9 a.m.: First bus convoy arrival to MIA southeast gate. MIA security to escort buses on to tarmac for designated flight; begin first aircraft loading (ground handler for all flights will be Swissport International, Ltd.). Luggage aircraft loading will be required. Each aircraft to depart once loading is complete based on slot time. TSA will be observing to ensure crew members board each aircraft, but no further crewmember or luggage screening will be conducted.