Fort Lauderdale mayor underlines need for Zaandam plan

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The Zaandam has been sailing with its current group of passengers for 24 days.
The Zaandam has been sailing with its current group of passengers for 24 days.

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 quarantine. 

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.”

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