Ships with people from ill-fated cruise beg Florida to dock

MIAMI (AP) — Two ships carrying passengers and crew from an ill-fated South American cruise are pleading with Florida officials to let them carry off the sick and dead, but Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida’s health care resources are already stretched too thin.

As the Zandaam and its sister ship the Rotterdam make for Florida, passengers confined to their rooms are anxious for relief, hoping DeSantis will change his mind and allow them to disembark despite confirmed coronavirus cases aboard.

The governor said he has been in contact with the Coast Guard and the White House about diverting them, and local officials were meeting Tuesday to decide whether to let them dock at Broward County’s Port Everglades cruise ship terminal, where workers who greet passengers were among Florida’s first confirmed coronavirus cases.

“We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources,” DeSantis told Fox News. “We view this as a big big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in Southern Florida right now.”

Holland America President Orlando Ashford penned an opinion column in the South Florida Sun Sentinel to plead with officials and residents to let the passengers disembark.

“Already four guests have passed away and I fear other lives are at risk,” Ashford wrote. “The COVID-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our common humanity. To slam the door in the face of these people betrays our deepest human values.”

With authorities in country after country sealing borders and imposing quarantines in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Zandaam and then its sister ship became pariahs. Passengers were asked to keep their rooms dark and leave their drapes closed as they passed through the Panama Canal on Sunday night after days of wrangling with local authorities.

Laura Gabaroni and her husband Juan Huergo, of Orlando, had wanted to explore the southernmost tip of South America for years — to see the penguins on the Falkland Islands and the glacial landscapes of the Strait of Magellan. But their vacation turned harrowing as countries shunned them and people fell ill.