Breaking News Journalism

BREAKING NEWS: Still No Plan for Cruise Ships With COVID-19 Exposed Patients Waiting to Dock at Port Everglades


At 8:20am, Today, April 2: District Six County Commissioner Michael Udine wrote on Twitter that “The Unified Command conferenced last night [April 1] and reached conditional approval of Carnival’s Plan, subject to approval between Broward and Carnival. Final document will be released this morning. As of now, ships remain outside US Waters. Look forward to seeing a SAFE plan for all to resolve.”

At 8:45am, Today, April 2: A report in NBC News said according to their sources, the Zaandam and Rotterdam will be allowed to dock in Florida and that the “deal is done” [quoted from the article’s shareable link, not in the article itself]. The article said The Rotterdam is scheduled to dock at 1pm, and the Zaandam at 1:30pm. We reached out to Ellen Kennedy, the Assistant Division Director/Communications for Port Everglades, to confirm or deny this report.

At 10:17am, Today, April 2: Ellen Kennedy, the Assistant Division Director/Communications for Port Everglades, denied that the deal is done. She said via a text message: “Details are still being worked out.”

At 11:35am, Today, April 2: Kennedy said “It is on the ship schedule to come in today but that is just a holding time so that the berths are kept open for the ships.” Details are still being worked out.

At 12:01pm, Today, April 2: County Commissioner Lamar Fisher said via text message, “No agreements have been signed yet.”

At 12:08pm, Today, April 2: Kennedy wrote to Kimberly Maroe, the Public Information Officer for the Broward County Commission. The message said: “Please be advised that the Zandamn and Rotterdam are listed on the Port Everglades ship schedule today to hold Berths open — details for the conditions of arrival are still being finalized and there is no ETA yet.”


Broward County Comission rejects plan presented by Carnival Corporation to disembark Coronavirus exposed passengers in Fort Lauderdale. A new hearing may take place tomorrow. According the the SEC, six thousand more passengers still at sea.

After a lengthy Broward County Commission meeting that lasted more than six hours yesterday, Tuesday March 31, there are still no approved plans for the Zaandam, Rotterdam or Coral Princess, three ships waiting to port and potentially disembark at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale in the coming days.

The commission vigorously reviewed a plan for the Zaandam and Rotterdam, presented by Carnival Corporation, the operators of Holland America, to disembark its passengers. Ultimately the plan was rejected. Carnival has been asked to present an amended plan to the County Commission and Unified Command Group. The plan may be ready to review tomorrow. No ships will be allowed to enter U.S. waters until a plan is approved.

The Zaandam, a Holland America cruise liner, made national headlines last week as four passengers aboard the ship died and nearly 200 reportedly presented with flu-like symptoms. Two of the deceased were confirmed as coronavirus deaths. Most of 200 have since recovered, while a remaining 14 passengers and one crew member are still presenting with symptoms, said Erik Elvejord, spokesperson for Holland America Line. Since the ship first set sail on March 7 from Buenos Aires, Argentina, The Zaandam was refused entry to multiple ports throughout South America before being allowed to enter through the Panama Canal where it offloaded healthy passengers to another Holland America ship, the Rotterdam. Both ships set their courses to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, hoping to dock at the port as early as tomorrow.

William Burke, chief maritime officer of Carnival Corp., said Port Everglades has become the ships’ “port of last resort.”

A third ship, the Coral Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, has a “higher-than-normal” number of people with flu-like symptoms and plans to disembark in Port Everglades on April 4, if permitted, according to a statement issued by the company Tuesday.

In regards to the Zaandam, the President of Holland America, Orlando Ashford, issued an emotional plea calling the situation a humanitarian crisis. The ship has been at sea for almost an entire month.

“Already four guests have passed away and I fear other lives are at risk,” wrote Ashford in his letter.“We are dealing with a ‘not my problem’ syndrome. The international community, consistently generous and helpful in the face of human suffering, shut itself off to Zaandam leaving her to fend for herself.” 

The decision to allow or disallow the ships entry to Port Everglades has fallen on the shoulders of the Broward County Commission and the The Unified Command group at Port Everglades, a group of authorities established in mid-March which includes the director of the port, coast guard commander, authorities at the Center for Disease Control, the department of health, Broward County Sheriff’s office and fire rescue. Carnival Corporation presented its potential plan to the Unified Command and County Commission for the Zaandam and Rotterdam, which was discussed at length at the March 31 Commission meeting. The plan included disembarking  passengers, putting foreign passengers directly on chartered planes and buses and quarantining the more than 300 Americans on board, 49 of which are from Florida. Carnival said there are 248 Canadians, 141 Australians, plus passengers from Ireland, the United Kingdom and other European countries on board.

Broward County officials fear the implications of allowing the passengers onto Florida soil as the county, as of today, has more than 1,200 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus. Fears that the patients pose additional exposure risk or could potentially overload Broward County medical services have weighed heavily on both the Unified Command Group and County Commission.

“This is not a decision that should be taken lightly,” said Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony at the March 31 County Commission meeting. “Nor is it a decision that should be exclusively made emotionally. Everyone is carrying a burden here in terms of what is the social, responsible thing to do. What is the humanistic response 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, are going to have to determine if we are 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. Having looked at what has been presented [by Carnival] for the first sketch or plan, we are not there.”

After numerous presenters spoke — including U.S. Coast Guard Captain Jo-Ann Burdian, a doctor from Broward Health, a representative from Customs and Border Control, the Holland America Cruise Director and other key parties — the County Commission determined the Holland America plan was not sufficient or safe enough to grant the company’s cruise liners access to Port Everglades. The commission requested the company present an amended plan, which may be presented tomorrow morning, Thursday April 2. Until a plan is approved, the ship has been asked to stay outside of U.S. waters.

District 3 County Commissioner Michael Udine expressed concern that the decision was coming down to the County Commission at all, and not the Federal government.

“Why was this put in the lap of basically a local government agency when I get reports…there are 248 people from Canada, 232 from Great Britain, 141 from Australia. Where is the U.S. government on this? Why is this being hurled on the people probably with the least amount of ability to solve this?”

Broward County may not be the last locality to face the difficult question of whether or not to let ships port. In addition to the Zaandam, Rotterdam and Coral Princess, in SEC filings Tuesday, Carnival Cruise lines, said it has more than 6,000 passengers still at sea. According to a report in the Miami Herald, “17 ships are lined up at Port Miami and Port Everglades, with more than a dozen others hovering miles offshore. Most have only crew aboard, but several still carrying passengers are steaming toward South Florida ports.”

On March 19, the U.S. Coast Guard’s 7th District Area of Responsibility (AOR), which includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico, plus 34 other foreign nations and territories, issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin advising ships not to rely on U.S. aid. It suggested that ships bolster their medical capabilities, personnel and resources in order to care for those onboard who are sick with influenza-like illnesses for an “indefinite period.”

“It must be considered that a potential evacuee has better access to comfortable surroundings and medical staff on board the foreign passenger vessel where care is already being provided,” the memo read. “To ensure the safety of persons on board and mitigate the potential of overwhelming local medical resources, all vessels operating within the Seventh District AOR with more than 50 persons on board should increase their medical capabilities, personnel and equipment.”