Zaandam coming to South Florida Thursday; sick passengers will go to health department

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — As the beleaguered Zaandam and Rotterdam cruise ships steam toward Port Everglades, more than 1,200 passengers on board still don’t know what will happen to them when they arrive early Thursday.

Carnival Corp.’s Holland America Line said in a statement late Wednesday that the company is still waiting on the go-ahead from local authorities. At least nine people aboard the ships are sick with COVID-19, the highly infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and four have died.

Both ships are on the Port Everglades docking schedule for Thursday at 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Managing the ships’ arrival will be “Unified Command,” a cohort that consists of leadership from Broward County’s Port Everglades, the U.S. Coast Guard, Broward Sheriff’s Office, Customs and Border Protection and the Florida Department of Health. Ellen Kennedy, a spokesperson for the port, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday about the status of the group’s decision-making.

After a five-hour meeting Tuesday, Broward commissioners rejected Carnival’s plan for the ships’ arrival, saying it lacked specifics, and sent the company back to the drawing board. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he would allow the ships to dock, a reversal from his position Monday.

The company’s plan announced late Wednesday calls for giving masks to all passengers who aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19, then transferring them to airports for charter and commercial flights. Around 45 people who are sick will be treated on the ships and 10 needing critical care will be transferred to local hospitals.

Erik Elvejord, a spokesperson for Holland America Line, said crew members would remain on the ship.

Broward Health confirmed to the Miami Herald that “critically ill” patients will be transferred to the hospital system.

At a press conference Wednesday, DeSantis said he is willing to accept any Floridians on board, but that the state is still working on ways to “deal with” foreign nationals so as to not drain resources in South Florida, the state’s epicenter of COVID-19 cases.

On Tuesday, DeSantis said he didn’t want any of the cruise passengers to get off in Florida.

Speaking to Fox News Wednesday, DeSantis said he changed his mind after learning that there are U.S. citizens and Florida residents aboard the ships.

“We were concerned about a deluge into the hospitals, but I think it turns out that there will probably be some who will need to go, but it’s very, very manageable and the local hospital system thinks that they can handle it,” he said.

DeSantis said he spoke to President Donald Trump Wednesday morning, who expressed he would “like to see a solution.”

Trump weighed in Wednesday evening, agreeing that states like Florida “have enough problems right now,” but that people are sick on the ships and need help.

He said the federal government will be sending “medical teams” to the ships to help sick passengers. He noted that there are many people from Canada and the United Kingdom on the ships.

“They’re in big trouble no matter where they’re from,” he said. “They’re dying so we have to do something, and the governor knows that too.”

Passengers and crew on both ships describe a desperate situation. A woman from Sarasota, Glorida Weed, 70, on the Zaandam, has had a fever for more than a week, and her husband, Bill, 75, is no longer able to swallow, she told the Herald Tuesday. A Central Florida couple on the Rotterdam, Laura and Juan Gabaroni Huergo, both 48, have not been able to breathe fresh air in several days inside their windowless cabin.

“It can feel like the walls are closing in at times, and it’s starting to wear on us,” Laura told the Herald Monday.

The Zaandam departed Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7, one day before the U.S. State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned all Americans to avoid cruise travel. The cruise was scheduled to end in Chile on March 21, but Chile did not allow anyone on board to disembark, so the ship sailed north.

Two days later, a passenger died, followed by two more on Thursday and another on Friday. Two of the deaths were due to COVID-19, Carnival Corp. confirmed.

Before passing through the Panama Canal, hundreds of passengers from the Zaandam transferred to the Rotterdam ship, in an effort to avoid more spread of the virus. The Rotterdam is carrying 808 passengers and 583 crew, and the Zaandam is carrying 442 passengers and 603 crew. Between the two ships, 311 passengers are U.S. citizens, 52 of them Florida residents, the company said.

Over the course of the cruise, 97 passengers and 136 crew have presented with influenza-like symptoms, the company said.

These figures differ from previous company statements that didn’t account for contractors and other service staff, Elvejord said.

DeSantis alluded to a third ship on its way to Florida, the Coral Princess, which is expected to arrive to Port Everglades Saturday with flu-like cases on board. All 1,024 passengers are confined to their cabins as of Tuesday. The ship has been sailing toward Florida since Argentina permitted only Argentine citizens to disembark in Buenos Aires on March 19.

“We’ve seen these cruise ships be big problems with this virus, and I know they’re not sailing any new ones, but this is going to continue to be a problem and so we want to make sure people are safe both on those ships but particularly on shore in places like the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.


(Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.)


©2020 Miami Herald

Visit Miami Herald at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.