MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Holland America Line announced Sunday night it has received permission to travel through the Panama Canal so two of its ships, one with sick passengers and crew, one with healthy people onboard, can head toward Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.
However, it is still unclear when those two ships, the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, will start heading east toward Florida and whether they will be allowed to actually dock at the Port.
The announcement was made after a weekend of confusion over the reported permission for the ships to transit the Panama Canal.
It all started on Saturday when Panama Canal authorities tweeted, in part, that it backed "all efforts being made to ensure an expedited return home for cruise passengers and crew on Holland America's Zaandam."
Later that night, Holland America released a statement that it was working to facilitate the transit for the Zaandam and Rotterdam.
"We are aware of reported permission for both Zaandam and Rotterdam to transit the Panama Canal in the near future. We greatly appreciate this consideration in the humanitarian interest of our guests and crew. This remains a dynamic situation, and we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities to finalize details," Holland America's statement read.
It appeared that everything was lined up for both vessels to cruise the Panama Canal on their way home.
But on Sunday, Port Everglades said there is still snag holding the ships back.
According to a statement from the port, Holland America, which is owned by the Miami-based Carnival Corporation, still didn't have "official approval to transit the Panama Canal, nor to enter Port Everglades."
"Should Holland America receive approval to transit the Panama Canal, it would take about three days for the ship to reach South Florida. Holland America must then submit a plan prior to arrival that addresses a long list of Unified Command requirements for entry into a Port," continued Port Everglades' statement.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis released a lengthy statement concerned about the Zaandam possibly docking at Port Everglades.
"I have been provided no information regarding any plans on how all the sick people on the ship will be handled, particularly when we are amid on our health crisis here with thousands of people already testing positive for the deadly and contagious COVID-19 virus in the tri-county area," the mayor's statement read. "I personally would prefer the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security find a better plan than to bring the Zaandam to a community already experiencing a rapid increasing spread of COVID-19. Our healthcare system could be extremely burdened by the time the ship arrives."
Trantalis then called on the Trump administration to create a plan, in coordination with him and local leaders, to find the most suitable location for the Zaandam and its passengers.
The cruise line confirmed the Zaandam had two individuals test positive for the coronavirus and four people have died. The company has not confirmed whether or not the four deaths were related to COVID-19.
As of Friday, 138 people — 53 guests and 85 crew members — had reported flu-like symptoms, Holland America said in its statement. There are 1,243 guests and 586 crew members on board the ship.
Healthy passengers were transferred from the Zaandam to the Rotterdam on Saturday. The Rotterdam also transferred medical supplies and medical personnel to the Zaandam.
For those with family members on board, they can call the following numbers for information: 1-877-425-2231 or 1-206-626-7398.
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