Cruise ship passengers desperately plead with Florida to allow them in

More than 1,400 other passengers are urging Florida to let them in, but officials say the state simply doesn't have the resources to take on an extra burden.

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By Safia Samee Ali

When Andrea Anderson and her husband boarded the MS Zaandam cruise ship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 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 it, the ship has been stuck in a holding pattern for nearly two weeks as it desperately goes from country to country.

So far it has been rejected by Chile, Peru and Argentina, which all sealed their ports because of the coronavirus outbreak.

It is 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."

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Anderson and more than 1,200 other passengers are pleading with Florida to let them in, but officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, say the state simply doesn't 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 said Monday on Fox News.

Four people have died on the ship, at least two of them from the coronavirus, while nine others have tested positive and 179 more have flu-like symptoms.

Andrea Anderson and her husband, Rob.Courtesy Andrea Anderson

"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 DeSantis has expressed staunch disapproval of the passengers' disembarking, the final say lies in the hands of the Broward County Commission, which wasn't able to come to a decision Tuesday. The commission is waiting for clear and proper protocols for disembarkation by the cruise line.

Commissioners still have a lot of conditions to consider, a spokesperson said.

The Zaandam and its sister ship, the Rotterdam, which 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," Mayor Dean Trantalis said Monday on Fox News. "We don't need any more infection in our communities. It cannot come to Fort Lauderdale."

More than 300 Americans are aboard the ships, including 49 Florida residents, several of whom live in Broward County.

Passengers say that they are strictly confined to cramped cabins and that meals are left at their doors. Even during a special 30-minute dispensation allowing them to move around the ship, they couldn't touch anything, sit anywhere or stand near anyone.

The cruise ships, run by Carnival Corp.'s Holland America Line, left Buenos Aires on March 7 for a two-week cruise through South America. The journey had been scheduled to end in Chile on March 21 before the ship was shut out by the country. A second leg of the trip that some of the passengers were planning to stay for had been scheduled to continue until the first week of April but was canceled by the cruise line.

"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, which has been working hard to provide online exercise classes and game nights to fill the time, she's worried that they will lose steam.

"It's a lot of pressure," she said, adding that life feels like the movie "Waterworld" because she hasn't touched land in weeks.

"I get it. I understand where they are coming from," said Brazell, 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."

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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 that 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?"

CORRECTION (April 1, 2020, 7:30 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misidentified one of the two ships that is being turned away from ports. It is the Rotterdam, not the Rottendam. The article also misspelled the last name of a passenger on the Rotterdam. She is Emily Spindler Brazell, not Branzell. The article also misstated the date when the ship left Buenos Aires. It was March 7, not March 8.