Coast Guard directs cruise ships with infected passengers to stay offshore ‘indefinitely’

The Coast Guard is directing cruise ships with passengers that may be infected with coronavirus to stay offshore “indefinitely” and prepare to treat passengers aboard their ships, according to a safety bulletin issued Sunday.

The Coast Guard’s new regulations mandate all ships in U.S. waters with more than 50 people give daily updates on their medical caseloads or face civil or criminal punishment. Coast Guard Rear Adm. E.C. Jones, whose district covers Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico, signed the bulletin preventing ship evacuations.

“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. “A potential evacuee has better access to comfortable surroundings and the medical staff on board the foreign passenger vessel where care is already being provided.”ADVERTISEMENT

Foreign-flagged vessels “that loiter beyond U.S. territorial seas” should first attempt to evacuate passengers through their countries, the regulations say. Many of South Florida’s cruise ships are registered in the Bahamas, a country with limited hospital capacity, The Associated Press noted. 

Dozens of cruise ships are waiting at Port Miami and Port Everglades or sitting offshore because of the pandemic. Most of the ships are carrying only crew, but Carnival Corp., which owns nine cruise lines, told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had more than 6,000 passengers on undocked ships.

Officials in Florida have been debating whether Carnival’s Holland America cruise ships, the Zaandam and Rotterdam, that hold a combined 300 Americans could dock at Port Everglades. Four people have died on the Zaandam, with two deaths being attributed to COVID-19, and nine have tested positive for coronavirus. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has been hesitant about letting the cruises unload in his state, saying it “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” But President Trump said he would speak to the governor to “do what’s right … for humanity,” according to the AP.

The Coast Guard will determine if a medical evacuation is necessary, and cruise lines are responsible for on-shore transportation and hospital beds.

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