Trump to DeSantis: COVID-plagued cruise liners can't be allowed to become "ghost ships"

Will Florida allow two Holland America cruise ships to disembark passengers, including American citizens, as a coronavirus outbreak spreads on board? Governor Ron DeSantis initially refused to allow them to dock in Florida, insisting that the state already had an explosion of COVID-19 cases on its hands. That raised eyebrows, considering the reluctance of DeSantis to close beaches and impose the same kind of state-wide shelter-in-place orders other governors have used:

DeSantis told Fox on Monday that the state couldn’t use its limited resources on “people who are not even Floridians”:

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. …

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.

Yesterday, though, Donald Trump sent a very different message to DeSantis. “We have people who are dying on the ship,” Trump said in his briefing last night. “I’m going to do what’s right, not only for us, but for humanity. … I’ll be speaking to the governor,” Trump promised:

That puts a considerable amount of pressure on DeSantis. At the very same press briefing, Trump had nothing but praise for Democratic governors in Michigan, New York, and California. This barely-veiled criticism of DeSantis stands in stark contrast, especially in a state Trump has adopted as his home turf.

The final decision won’t be in DeSantis’ hands anyway. County commissioners actually make that call, and Broward County appears ready to roll out a docking plan with Holland America to get the passengers off the ship. They need Holland America parent Carnival to come up with a mitigation plan to contain the risk, but they sound eager to help out:

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony called the situation a “humanitarian crisis” and asked commissioners at the Tuesday meeting not to decide based on emotion. Allowing the ship to dock would burden the local health care system and put residents at risk of additional exposure, he warned.

“This ship has been turned away from several countries already,” Tony said. “We are in some very, very critical circumstances where we as a county are going to have to determine are we willing to take on this responsibility.”

William Burke, chief maritime officer for Carnival, which owns Holland America, told commissioners “we are coming to the place of last resort,” and that his staff had worked through the night on a docking plan. Four people on board have already died. Burke said he hopes two others who are severely ill “will survive the transit.”

Many of the commissioners were sympathetic about the passengers’ plight, including Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich, who urged officials to quickly hammer out a plan.

“These people have been turned away from so many countries, one after the other. We are their last hope. What are we going to do? Let this ship go back out to sea and float around and let people die? I don’t think so,” Rich said.

The problem for Florida and other ports of call is that it’s not just the Zaandam and Rotterdam. Carnival tells the Miami Herald that they had 40 ships at sea when they stopped sailing new cruises. Most of those have returned, but three more still have yet to finish their cruises. There has been no word on infections on the last three ships, but one can expect that they will also struggle to find welcomes in this current pandemic situation. Who will step up to deal with the situation, and what will it take to contain it? For those answers, people will pay very close attention to the Zaandam and Rotterdam in the coming days.

However, the US Coast Guard has a different direction to these ships — return to your registered home countries. An order signed three days ago declares that the USCG wants such ships sequestered “indefinitely” if they remain in US waters:

The U.S. Coast Guard has directed all cruise ships to prepare to treat any sick passengers and crew on board while being sequestered “indefinitely” offshore during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new rules require daily updates on each ship’s coronavirus caseload for vessels in U.S. waters, and come with a stiff warning: Any foreign-flagged vessels “that loiter beyond U.S. territorial seas” should try first to medically evacuate the very sick to those countries instead.

Many of South Florida’s cruise ships are registered in the Bahamas, where hospital capacity is limited and people are still recovering from last year’s Hurricane Dorian.

The rules, which apply to any vessel carrying more than 50 people, were issued in a March 29 safety bulletin signed by Coast Guard Rear Admiral E.C. Jones, whose district includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico.

Will Trump overrule the USCG? Stay tuned.