Broward County commissioners debated for hours during a meeting Tuesday about whether or not to let a Holland America Cruise ship, the Zaandam, dock at Port Everglades.
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Ultimately, the commission did not vote on whether to let the ship return to its home port. Some county leaders felt they needed more information.
The ship has confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board, and two of four people who have died on the cruise tested positive for the virus, according to Carnival Corp.’s chief maritime officer, Vice Admiral William Burke. (Holland America is a subsidiary of the Carnival Corp.)
“We’re coming to the place of last resort,” Burke said.
The ship departed March 7, before cruise lines paused operations. The voyage was supposed to end on March 21.
The Zaandam — and a second Holland America ship still at sea, the Rotterdam — have been turned away by Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, and now Mexico, according to Burke, who also said other countries have denied passengers of other ships to disembark.
Holland America President Orlando Ashford wrote a plea on the cruise line's blog Monday, calling the situation a "humanitarian crisis."
The Zaandam was able to load extra personal protective equipment, nurses, doctors, medicine and supplies in Ecuador and Panama. Burke told the commission there are now four doctors and five nurses on the ship.
As of Monday night, 14 passengers are experiencing flu-like illness, seven of them are being treated.The cruise line is hoping to medivac two people with more serious illness.
About 800 people on the Rotterdam ship are “largely well,” Burke told the commission, while 400 people on the Zaandam are in OK health. The Rotterdam also has some passengers experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Port Everglades Unified Command, which consists of the Broward Sheriff’s Office and fire rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs & Border Protection, the Florida Department of Health in Broward County, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more, advised that they need the cruise ship to meet certain requirements, including checking the temperature of all passengers and crew before they would disembark.
“We are still trying to outline some of the specifics as to what is going to be the best strategy to be put forth to make sure we mitigate any type of harm that will impact our community,” Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony told commissioners. “We as a county are going to have to determine are willing to take on this responsibility if a plan does not outline in very thorough elements a safe and secure environment in which we can execute this.”
With the Unified Command team wanting more information, and the commissioners split, a vote was deferred.
“We have to rise to that occasion,” Commissioner Beam Furr said. He is one of the commissioners in favor of letting the ship dock. “Hopefully by the end of the day, or at least by tomorrow, we’ve got a good plan that we can all live with. But we need to do it.”
The ship is expected to arrive at Port Everglades late Wednesday or early Thursday, according to the port's website. Burke said the cruise line will keep working on a plan the county can feel comfortable with.
“We will submit the next plan as soon as I can get back and look at it,” he said. “I’ve had people working through the night to update the plan.”
A third cruise ship with passengers — the Coral Princess — is headed for Port Everglades after a South American voyage that was cut short. It is expected to arrive on Saturday, April 4.