March 31, 2020 / 9:05 PM / 2 months ago

Cruise ship with coronavirus outbreak sails to uncertain Florida welcome

(Reuters) - A Dutch cruise ship that has been in limbo since cases of the coronavirus were confirmed onboard faces an uncertain welcome at its planned destination in Florida, where the governor says he does not want sick passengers “dumped” on the state.

Holland America Line’s MS Zaandam was allowed to pass through the Panama Canal on Sunday. It had been stuck off Panama’s Pacific coast after the company announced the vessel had confirmed cases of the coronavirus on board and that four guests had died.

Company president Orlando Ashford urged authorities to allow people off the ship, describing the situation as a “test of our humanity.”

Zaandam guests that passed screening - nearly two-thirds - were moved to its sister ship Rotterdam before transiting the canal. Both ships are now bound for Fort Lauderdale but it remains unclear who will be allowed to disembark in Florida, where concerns about the coronavirus are mounting.

“We cannot afford to have people who aren’t even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told Fox News on Monday, referring to the state’s medical facilities and hospital capacity.

DeSantis told a news conference on Monday the best solution was to send medical help onto Zaandam.

But in a blog posted on the Holland America website, Ashford urged authorities to show compassion.

FILE PHOTO: The cruise ship MS Zaandam, where passengers have died on board, navigates through the pacific side of the Panama Canal, in Panama City, Panama, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, March 29, 2020. REUTERS/Erick Marciscan

“We are dealing with a ‘not my problem’ syndrome,” he said. “The international community, consistently generous and helpful in the face of human suffering, shut itself off to Zaandam.”

As of Monday, 76 guests and 117 crew on Zaandam had an influenza-like illness, including eight people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, Ashford said.

Holland America said it was still finalizing details of where and when guests would disembark and that it was in touch with embassies and governments.

Florida lawmakers on Tuesday were deadlocked over whether to let Zaandam dock, with some officials requesting more information before making a decision.

Representatives of Holland America, a unit of Carnival Corp (CCL.N), health experts, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida have appeared before the Broward County Commission to decide the fate of the ships.

Before the passenger transfers, guests on the 238-meter (781-foot) Zaandam said the ship had over 200 British nationals on board, as well as Americans, Canadians, Australians, Germans, Italians, French, Spanish, Dutch and New Zealanders.

One of the four dead was Dutch, the Dutch government said.

FILE PHOTO: The Holland America Line cruise ship MS Zaandam is pictured, where passengers have died onboard, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, in Panama City, Panama March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Erick Marciscano

On Tuesday afternoon, the two ships were off the coast of Central America, headed for the Straits of Yucatan. They are due to reach Fort Lauderdale late on Wednesday, according to shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon.

Holland America said Rotterdam on Sunday had 797 guests and 645 crew on board, with 446 guests and 602 crew on Zaandam.

Zaandam departed Argentina on March 7 and had been scheduled to end its journey in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21.

Reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City, Zachary Fagenson in Miami, Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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