By: Anne Geggis
Death has descended on the coronavirus-stricken cruise ship that Holland America announced was Fort Lauderdale-bound, but now officials at Panama Canal won’t let them through.
Being blocked from the canal will keep it from docking at Port Everglades, as local officials had feared and sought to stop earlier in the week.
Four people on board the Zaandam cruise ship among its 1,243 passengers died on what was supposed to be a 14-day cruise that left Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7, the cruise line confirmed Friday. The same statement said another 138 onboard had flu-like symptoms that have become a hallmark of the virus that’s triggered a global pandemic.
Holland America’s Friday statement said the ship, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, still plans to dock at Port Everglades. But Panama Canal officials put out a statement that no vessel with COVID-19-positive patients would be allowed through the canal, said Broward Commissioner Michael Udine, who represents Coral Springs.
Udine had made a motion to stop the stricken ship from docking at Port Everglades at an emergency meeting on March 24. The motion received a second from Commissioner Mark Bogen to stop the Zaandam from docking at an Emergency Meeting.
Turned away from its destination port in Chile on March 21, what was supposed to be a fun excursion away from the pandemic hotspots has turned into a grim mystery cruise.
Udine said that he feels a great deal of compassion for those onboard the Zaandam, but a plan needs to be in place for handling the sick passengers and crew and the area’s health system is overwhelmed enough.
“They need to be attended to somewhere,” he said of the cruise ship’s COVID-19 patients. “But we have to balance that with our health system.”
He said social media call-outs from Broward Health for supplies had led him to believe the system is not ready to absorb hundreds of new patients from beyond Broward County’s borders.
“We’re going to need to see a detailed plan on how this is going to work before this can be considered,” he added.
Udine said that the port receives notification of docking 72 hours before the actual event. No such information has yet been received from the Zaandam.
“As citizens, we should try to do what we can do to help someone in peril, but we must make sure we do this with a full plan that provides for the protection and safety of everyone involved — the people on the ship and the people in Broward County.”
- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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