By Ted Scouten

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — Broward County commissioners have delayed a decision on whether or not to allow two Holland America cruise ships, one with COVID-19 infected passengers, to dock at Port Everglades this weekend.

Commissioners said they want to review a report from the cruise line detailing how it would handle sick people on board.

“We’re trying to bring two ships up here, they do have COVID on board. They have 4 passengers who are deceased,” said William Burke, chief maritime officer for Miami-based Carnival Corp.

Carnival Corporation, the parent company of the Holland America Zaandam and Rotterdam, say Port Everglades is their last hope for coming ashore. They’ve been turned away from numerous countries. On board the Zaandam are some sick passengers including 14 with flu like symptoms — 2 of them in pretty bad shape. More than 60 have recovered.  Now the cruise line is hoping to dock and get their healthy passengers home.

Those healthy passengers and crew members were transferred to the Rotterdam over the weekend.

“We’re working to put in place the flights that we need, charter the flights to get people where they need to go,” said Burke.

The plan would be to send them directly to the airport, all wearing masks and fly them home.  Locals would be driven. The ill would remain on board until they recover.  But the commissioners and members of the Unified Command, a group of local, state and federal officials, say there are still issues.

“We are not there yet.  We are not in a position where we outlined all the facts and specifications that would allow us to accept and take on an added responsibility when we’re in a time when Broward is the epicenter for the state,” said Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony. “This is not a decision that should be taken lightly, and nor should it be a decision that is exclusively made emotionally. Everyone is carrying a burden here in terms of what is the socially responsible thing to do, what is the humanistic approach to take as this ship has been turned away from several countries already. We are the United States of America and we have never turned away people in need or those that are sick. But we are under some very, very critical circumstances where we as a county will have to determine, are we willing to take on this responsibility if a plan does not outline in very thorough elements a safe and secure environment in which we can execute this,” he said.

Some commissioners questioned the cruise line’s reporting.

“I’m just getting different numbers in how many are sick, how many are not sick.  How many are well,” said Commissioner Mark Bogen.

“Just to drop people off at the place where we’re having the highest number of cases right now just doesn’t make sense,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, adding he doesn’t want the ship to dock here.

“I’ve been in touch with the White House about it, the Coast Guard about it. The way to deal with it is to send medical attention to the ships.”

Commissioners say their first priority is keeping Broward residents protected, but they realize this is more than a medial issue, it’s humanitarian.

“These people have been turned away from so many countries, one after the other.  We are their last hope.  What are you going to do, let the ship go back to sea and just float around and let people die?” said Broward Commissioner Nan Rich.

A couple from Miramar, who is on board one of the ships, are adamant that they should be allowed to dock at Port Everglades.

Cliff Kolber and his wife set sail on the Zaandam on March 6 for a two-week cruise.

Kolber said the first week at sea was fairly normal but once it appeared that the coronavirus was morphing into a pandemic, he and his wife starting eating alone at dinner and refraining from going to shows on the ship. He said they basically self-isolated.

Last Sunday, Kolber said, the ship told everyone to isolate in their rooms and food and drink were brought to them.

On Monday, Kolber and his wife, who are healthy, were transferred from the Zaandam to the Rotterdam and they’re hoping to return to South Florida, despite protestations from DeSantis and wavering feelings from other leaders.

“I do know this is a very serious thing but I think this is getting out of hand,” Kolber told CBS4 News.

Kolber said allowing the ships to dock at Port Everglades is the right thing to do.

Broward Commissioner Barbara Sharief is in favor of bringing the ship into Port Everglades. Sharief is a nurse practitioner.  She thinks that the ship should be granted permission to dock and people on board should get help and not be turned away.

“An American on a ship must come home. That defies, I mean the fact that you’re an American citizen and America can tell you to go away and stay in the middle of the ocean and get sick, absolutely not. That’s not American,” she said.

In a statement, Holland America said:

“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.”

For those with family members on board the Zaandam, they can call 1-877-425-2231 or 1-206-626-7398.


Ted Scouten