By: Anne Geggis
The cruise ship with four dead and more than 100 sickened has received the go-ahead from the Panama Canal, raising the possibility anew that it will arrive in Fort Lauderdale — posing a new dilemma for leaders.
Commissioner Michael Udine of Parkland said he wants to see it go somewhere else — given the area’s coronavirus crisis.
After saying Friday that no ship with COVID-19 patients would be allowed through, the Twitter account representing the Panama Canal authority tweeted Saturday night that the Zaandam, the cruise ship with no definite destination, would be allowed passage through the canal.
That prompted thanks from Holland America’s Zaandam in a statement.
“We greatly appreciate this consideration in the humanitarian interest of our guests and crew,” it reads. “This remains a dynamic situation, and we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities to finalize details.”
They did not update its intention stated the previous day to dock at Fort Lauderdale or whether the number of dead or ill had increased from its Friday update.
So far, Holland America has confirmed four passengers are dead, including one American, and another 138 passengers and crewmembers are ill with an “influenza-type illness” according to them.
The ship left Buenos Aires on March 7 for a sail around South America.
Udine made a motion to block the ship from docking at Port Everglades at an emergency meeting on March 24. On Sunday, he said that there are places better prepared to absorb the Zaandam’s sick.
“We are one of the hotspots” for coronavirus, he said, pointing to the elevated number of cases in Broward County, the area’s large elderly population, and a health system that’s already swamped with the outbreak.
He said the county at least needs to see a plan for how Holland America is going to lessen the risk to dockworkers and residents. There also needs to be a definite plan for moving passengers back home according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.
A check of departures and arrivals at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport show most flights have been canceled as the airlines have grounded flights into May.
“I certainly sympathize with the passengers — they have to go somewhere,” Udine said. “But … there’s got to be a better place we can do this.”
The ship’s docking at Port Everglades will be discussed at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.
- 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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