WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is trying to work out a plan with the southern state of Florida to help passengers of two cruise ships, stranded at sea and refused docking amid the global coronavirus scare.
The Zaandam and the Rotterdam together are carrying 1,200 passengers. After it was determined that some passengers and crew members on the Zaandam were infected, the Rotterdam accepted most of those who tested negative for the coronavirus. But the deaths of four passengers on the Zaandam and the sickening of others have prompted many port authorities on the ships' route to refuse them docking.
The reality is reminiscent of the 17th century myth of a cursed ship the Flying Dutchman, doomed to sail forever. Wagner's popular opera, based on the myth and the alleged sightings of the cursed ship, suggests that salvation is possible through love.
The salvation of the stranded cruise ships' passengers now depends on the willingness of the southern U.S. state to take the risk and allow them to disembark. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it clear that he would not let foreign tourists endanger local residents, but said he was willing to send medical help to the ship.
Trump calls for help
U.S. President Donald Trump has intervened, saying that people are dying on the ship and must be helped.
"I'm going to do what's right, not only for us but for humanity," Trump told reporters Tuesday. The president's stance on COVID-19 victims has changed significantly since February when he said that another cruise ship, the Grand Princess, should not be allowed to dock in California.
DeSantis said Wednesday that Florida residents would be allowed to come on shore, and he also ordered the whole state on lockdown.
Chile won't let ship dock
The Holland America Line ships, owned by Carnival Corporation, are now sailing toward Port Everglades in South Florida after Chile refused them docking but Panama gave them permission to sail through. Their crews and passengers don't know what will happen to them when they arrive early Thursday. On Wednesday the ships did not yet have permission to enter U.S. waters.
The U.S. Coast Guard has informed all cruise ships in the area that they will be sequestered offshore "indefinitely," and that the sick passengers and crews have to be treated on board. Under normal conditions, when a passenger or crew member becomes too ill for the ship's medical team to care for, they call the Coast Guard to provide a medical evacuation to an onshore hospital.
Two of the four deaths on the Zaandam are believed to have been caused by COVID-19. More than 150 other passengers and crew members have various flulike symptoms. The cruise company says nine have tested positive for coronavirus.
Little sympathy for passengers
Judging by social media comments, cruise passengers may not enjoy all the sympathy they need. Many people consider them to be rich, spoiled individuals who should have known better than go on a cruise amid the outbreak. U.S. sailors aboard the aircraft carrier the USS Theodore Roosevelt who became infected by coronavirus while carrying out their duty to the country are a different matter.
The ship's commander, Captain Brett Crozier, has pleaded for permission to evacuate sailors after more than 90 became ill with COVID-19. About 1,000 of 4,800 crew members were evacuated on Wednesday to various facilities in Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific. The number of evacuees is expected to double in the next few days, but military officials have said others will stay on board to protect the ship and run critical systems.