In a letter issued last week, the US Coast Guard (USCG)7th District ordered cruise ships to prepare to treat any sick passengers and crew on board ship, while being sequestered ‘indefinitely’ offshore during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 7th District covers Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico.
A warning was also contained in the letter saying that any foreign-flagged vessels ‘that loiter beyond US territorial seas’ should try first to medically evacuate the very sick to their flag state countries.
Several South Florida homeported cruise ships are registered in the Bahamas, where hospital capacity is limited, local Miami media claimed.
The new rules, which apply to vessels carrying more than 50 people, were outlined in a 29thMarch safety bulletin signed by 7th District head, USCG Rear Admiral Jones.
Each cruise ship destined for a US port is already required to provide daily updates on coronavirus cases or face civil penalties or criminal prosecution.
Dozens of cruise ships are either berthed at Port Miami and Port Everglades or waiting offshore, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most have only crew on board, but Carnival Corp told the US Securities Exchange Commission in a filing last week that it had more than 6,000 passengers still at sea.
Under normal conditions, a ship can ask the USCG to medically evacuate people who are too sick to be cared for on board.
However, under the new rules, a7th District USCG flight surgeon will decide if a transfer is absolutely necessary, but the cruise companies will be responsible for arranging onshore transportation and hospital beds.
‘This is necessary as shore-side medical facilities may reach full capacity and lose the ability to accept and effectively treat additional critically-ill patients,’ the memo said.
Meanwhile, the plight of Holland America’s (HAL) ‘Zaandam’ and ‘Rotterdam’ could be decided later today.
Last night, HAL made an appeal to US Federal and local authorities to allow the the twocruise ships to disembark passengers in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades port. Cruise line executives also discussed the situation directly with President Trump.
“We appreciate the support of President Trump in resolving the humanitarian plight of our guests,”HAL said in a statement. “Holland America Line calls for compassion and reason in the review and approval of our disembarkation plan by Florida officials.”
The appeal came hours after Florida State Governor, Ron DeSantis said his state was willing to accept Floridians on board the cruise ships, which were said to number 52 on ‘Zaandam’.
There are 808 pax and 583 crew on the ‘Rotterdam’ and 442 pax and 603 crew on ‘Zaandam’, HAL said.
The cruise line revealed that 97 guests and 136 crew on the ships had flu-like symptoms. The sick passengers would stay isolated on board until they recover. HAL alsoclaimed it had secured a local health system to treat the fewer than 10 people in need of immediate critical care onshore.
“This small number is the only group that will require any support from medical resources in Broward County and is necessary to prevent further harm to their health,”HAL’s statement said.
In total, there were still thought to be around a dozen cruise ships stranded at sea with passengers on board.