When Andrea Anderson and her husband boarded the MS Zaandam cruise ship in Buenos Aires more than three weeks ago, they didn’t know that their trip of a lifetime would disastrously coincide with a global pandemic that would leave them shut out and stranded at sea.
Unable to find a port willing to accept them, their ship has been stuck in a holding pattern for nearly two weeks as it desperately goes from country to country.
So far they have been rejected by Chile, Peru and Argentina, which all sealed their ports amid the coronavirus outbreak.
They are now charting a hope-filled course for the United States, namely Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“I don’t know if they are going to accept us, I hope they do,” said Anderson, 63, a fiber artist from Maineville, Ohio. “We need to get off this ship.”
Anderson, along with more than 1,400 other passengers, are now pleading with Florida to allow them in, but officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, say the state simply does not have the resources to take on an extra burden amid a growing health crisis.
“We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources,” DeSantis told Fox News on Monday.
Four people have died on the ship, at least two from the coronavirus, nine others have tested positive and 179 others are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
“People are getting sick and they need proper medical attention in a hospital, they cannot be treated onboard,” Anderson said. “The people on this boat, we are all someone’s parent, grandparent, aunt, and uncle. The governor should think ‘what if my mother was on that boat?’”
While the governor has expressed staunch disapproval with the ship disembarking, the final say lies in the hands of the Broward County Commission who was not able to come to a decision on Tuesday. The commission is still waiting for clear and proper protocols for disembarkation by the cruise line.
They still have a lot of conditions to consider, said a spokesperson for the commission.
The Zaandam, and its sister ship, the Rottendam that took on asymptomatic passengers from the Zaandam, are scheduled to reach Fort Lauderdale by Wednesday–much to the dismay of the city’s mayor.
“We are a community that are trying to hold everything together,” said Mayor Dean Trantalis to Fox News on Monday. “We don’t need any more infection in our communities. It cannot come to Fort Lauderdale.”
There are more than 300 Americans onboard the ships.
Passengers say they are strictly confined to cramped cabins and meals are left at their door. Even during a special 30-minute dispensation allowing them to move around the ship, they could not touch anything, sit anywhere or stand near anyone.
The cruise ships, run by Carnival Corp.’s Holland America Line, disembarked from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 8 for a two week cruise through South America and was scheduled to end in Chile on March 21 before they were shut out by the country.
“We started getting turned away by everyone,”said Emily Spindler Brazell, a passenger from Tappahannock, Virginia, who was on the Zaandam but was later transferred to the Rotterdam. “The world was closing its doors as we sat there waiting.”
While she said passengers have been treated very well by the ship’s staff that has been working hard to provide online exercise classes and game nights to fill time, she’s worried they will lose steam.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said, adding that life feels like the movie ‘Waterworld’ since she hasn’t touched land in weeks.
“I get it. I understand where they are coming from,” said Branzell, who is in her 60s. “But it’s important for them to know that there are so many people who are feeling fine and we should be allowed to get off.”
Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America, called the ships’ multiple border rejections “a humanitarian crisis” in an statement.
“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,” he said. “These are unfortunate souls unwittingly caught up in the fast-changing health, policy and border restrictions that have rapidly swept the globe.”
Anderson is hopeful Florida will realize the human toll of turning people away and will eventually allow them in.
“These are real people, who are getting sick and who are away from families and proper care,” she said. “How many people have to die on this ship before they realize we need to get off?”