Florida officials have been debating whether two Holland
America Line ships -- one with passengers that have tested positive for Covid-19 -- should be allowed to dock at Port
Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.
One of the most vocal has been Dean Trantalis, the mayor of
Fort Lauderdale, who has gone on Twitter and television to voice concerns that
the 1,243 guests and 1,247 crew members on the Zaandam and Rotterdam would
descend upon a city that already has its own Covid-19 cases. In an interview with Travel Weekly on Tuesday, Trantalis
said he was frustrated that no plan was in place to receive the ships, which
were on track to arrive in Fort Lauderdale from South America as early as Wednesday.
Port Everglades said Holland America is working on a plan to
be submitted to the Port Everglades Unified Command for review. The ships will
not be allowed into U.S. waters until the plan is approved.
As of March 30, four passengers who had been on the Zaandam
had died. Another 76 guests and 117 crew members have influenza-like symptoms.
Eight have tested positive for Covid-19, according to a letter from Holland
America president Orlando Ashford on Monday.
“It was my concern that the cruise ship company was going to
let these people out on their own and go back home or wherever they’re going to
go to without any requirement that they either be quarantined or that they be
treated medically, which would put our population here at great risk,” Trantalis said.
Trantalis said he had gone to the Broward County Commission
meeting on Tuesday and that no plan had yet been agreed upon to treat sick
passengers and quarantine healthy ones. Broward County oversees Port
Everglades, which is in Fort Lauderdale.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he does not think the ships
should be allowed in Florida, which has about 6,700 cases of coronavirus.
“We think it’s a mistake to be putting people into South
Florida right now given what we are dealing with,” he said during a press
conference on Monday. “So we would like to have medical personnel simply
dispatched to that ship and the cruise lines can hopefully arrange for that,
tend to folks who need medical attention.”
The matter has caught the attention of the White House.
Trantalis said that he had received a phone call from a
staff member at the White House who told him to be “rest assured” that they
were working on a plan but could not publicly talk about it. The White House
did not respond to an email request for comment, but President Trump talked
about the ships during his Tuesday press conference.
When asked about the Holland America situation, he brought
up the Diamond Princess, which in February had a coronavirus outbreak with
3,711 onboard and was eventually allowed to dock at the Japanese port of
Yokohama and remain in quarantine.
“People turned those ships away. There was a ship, as you
know in a certain part of Asia, and from port to port, no one would take it but
in the meantime you have people dying on the ship or at least very sick but
they’re dying on the ship,” Trump said.
Turning to the Zaandam and Rotterdam, Trump said he planned to
speak to DeSantis.
“I’m going to do what’s right not only for us but for
humanity,” the president said. “These are two big ships and they have a lot of very sick
people. I’ll be speaking to the governor.”
The Zaandam had been on a South American voyage that
originated in Argentina on March 7. It was supposed to end on March 21 in Chile
but got turned away from ports where it had originally had permission to dock.
The last time passengers have been off the ship is March 14.
The Holland America ships have not been the only ones that
have had to search for ports that would take them in after passengers and crew
members tested positive for coronavirus.
The Grand Princess sailed off the coast of San Francisco for
days with 21 cases of coronavirus before finally being able to dock March 9 in
the Port of Oakland. More than 100 people ended up testing positive for the
virus and two passengers later died.
Once the ship docked, a plan was in place to get treatment
for the sick people and take healthy ones to nearby military bases for a 14-day
Trantalis said he would welcome the ships if a similar
strategy were taken.
“We have military bases here. We have hospitals here. We
have the ability to accommodate those folks but no one is talking about that,”
he said. “That’s the proper protocol and that’s the answer to the situation.”
Trantalis said he’s not worried that the opposition from so
many Florida officials to the ships docking in Fort Lauderdale will cause a
rift with the cruise industry. Port Everglades is one of the most active ports
for commercial cruise ships, bringing tourists and their dollars to the city.
Trantalis said he knows how important the industry is to the city.
“We’re here to embrace the travelers. We appreciate the
travelers who come here. We thank them for making Fort Lauderdale their
destination,” he said. “People from all over the country, all over the world
see Fort Lauderdale as a place to come and visit and have a good time. But
under these circumstances we’re living in different times right now and we have
to be very careful how we respect not just the passenger but also the people
who live in our community and to ensure that we don’t put anyone at further
risk than they are already.”