Fort Lauderdale mayor bars stricken Zaandam cruise ship from city’s port

Miami, USA, Mar 29 (efe-epa).- Fort Lauderdale’s mayor said Sunday that he would not allow the Zaandam cruise liner, on which four adults have died and two passengers have tested positive for COVID-19, to dock in the Florida city’s port and suggested that it should dock at a Navy base for security reasons instead.

Dean Trantalis issued a statement through social media after the Zaandam, a cruise ship of the Holland America Line, based in Seattle, received authorization on Saturday to cross through the Panama Canal and continue its trip towards Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

“We cannot add further risk to our community amid our own health crisis here with thousands of people already testing positive for the deadly and contagious COVID-19 virus” in three counties in southeast Florida, Trantalis wrote.

Trantalis stated that the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security should establish a plan to protect the community, and suggested that there are many Navy bases on the US east coast that could take in the vessel.

In that way, the situation could be managed in a “much more controlled environment” than in a “vast urban area,” Trantalis said.

According to the Florida Department of Health, 4,246 cases of coronavirus had been recorded on Sunday, compared to the 4,038 cases at the end of Saturday, although the death toll remained at 56.

Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford on Sunday addressed passengers through a video, assuring them that the company will do the impossible to get everyone and their families back home as soon as possible, and apologized for the fact that the vacations they longed for have become something very different due to a “difficult and unprecedented” situation.

The Zaandam, which left Buenos Aires on Mar. 7 for a trip that included the Falkland Islands and southern Chile and was scheduled to end on Mar. 21 at the Chilean port of San Antonio, was at sea when the coronavirus pandemic began to strongly impact the American continent.

For this reason and because more than 130 people aboard show flu-like symptoms, according to the company itself, the Zaandam has not been able to dock in any port on the west coast of South America after Punta Arenas, Chile, on Mar. 14. The company also confirmed the death of four elderly passengers without specifying the causes.

The cruise ship was forbidden to dock in San Antonio, although it was able to anchor off the Chilean port of Valparaiso, and later reached Panamanian waters, where it was quarantined.

Panama’s health authorities announced on Saturday that they authorized the cruise to pass through the Panama Canal, after having been denied on Friday by the Panama’s Ministry of Health.

Ashford said in the video released Sunday that the transfer of 401 passengers who had not been ill to another cruise ship, the Rotterdam, which arrived in Panamanian waters on Friday, is intended to be a better and healthier situation for everyone.

He also indicated that they will remain isolated and that this will allow passengers who are in cabins without light and without fresh air for days to enjoy exterior rooms for the rest of their trip.

“The Zaandam and Rotterdam cruise ships entered the waters of the interoceanic highway on Sunday afternoon after completing their operations of transferring passengers and storing their supplies,” the Panama Canal Authority said in a statement.

According to the Panama Maritime Authority, the deceased aboard the Zaandam are of American, Swedish, English and Dutch nationalities. Their bodies will be disembarked upon arrival at their destination.

In mid-March, the US cruise industry suspended all planned trips because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not recommend this type of tourist transport.

However, the trips that were already underway, such as that of the Zandaam, could end on the date they had planned. EFE-EPA


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