Florida docking plan in the works for ill-fated cruise ships with 4 dead, several sick

(Photo: Holland America)

The U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday that it’s working with Holland America on a detailed docking plan that would require two ships carrying passengers and crew from an ill-fated cruise to handle all medical issues without impacting South Florida’s already-stressed hospitals.

If a “unified command” of state, local and federal officials can’t unanimously adopt the plan, they’ll punt a decision to Washington, Coast Guard Captain Jo-Ann Burdian said.

“There are no great choices left. These are all tough outcomes....the last thing we want to do is execute a plan that someone doesn’t agree with,” she told the Broward County Commmision during an emergency meeting on the fate of the Zaandam and its sister ship, the Rotterdam.


Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony called the decision a “humanitarian crisis” and asked commissioners not to vote based on emotion. Allowing the ship to dock here would burden the local healthcare system and put residents at risk of additional exposure, he warned.

“This ship has been turned away from several countries already. We are the United States of America and we have never turned away people in need or those that are sick but we are in some very, very critical circumstances where we as a county are going to have to determine are we willing to take on this responsibility.”


At least two of the four deaths on the Zandaam were caused by the coronavirus, according to Panamanian authorities. The company said eight others have tested positive for COVID-19, and that most of the passengers and crew on both ships appear to be in good health.

Gabaroni and hundreds of others who were fever-free and not showing any symptoms were transferred to the Rotterdam, which replenished the Zandaam with supplies and staff last week.

The Zaandam was originally scheduled to travel on March 7 from Buenos Aires to San Antonio, Chile, and then depart on March 21 for a 20-day cruise to arrive in Fort Lauderdale in early April. But beginning March 15, the Zandaam was denied entry by South American ports, even before passengers reported their first flu-like symptoms on March 22.

Canal administrator Ricaurte Vásquez said Panama allowed them through for humanitarian reasons, but won’t make another exception for vessels with positive coronavirus cases.

Passenger Emily Spindler Brazell, of Tappahannock, Virginia, said the company has been accommodating, offering extravagant meals, wine and unlimited phone calls — but they have to stay in their rooms, avoiding any contact with others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.