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Coast Guard Orders Cruise Ships Carrying Coronavirus Patients to Remain Offshore ‘Indefinitely’

A cruise ship sits at an empty dock in La Jolla, Calif., amid the global COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, March 16, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The U.S. Coast Guard has ordered all cruise ships to remain offshore, asking companies to prepare to take care of sick passengers at sea “indefinitely” and to report their numbers of sick and dead each day, or face civil penalties or criminal prosecution during the coronavirus pandemic.

The shift in protocol applies to any vessel carrying more than 50 people and will affect approximately 17 American and foreign vessels anchored near Port Miami and Port Everglades, according to the Miami Herald. The Coast Guard would usually evacuate anyone too ill for the ship’s medical team to care for, but the new rules require that sick passengers remain on the ship.

“It must be considered that a potential evacuee has better access to comfortable surroundings and medical staff on board the foreign passenger vessel where care is already being provided,” Coast Guard Rear Admiral E.C. Jones, whose jurisdiction includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico, said.

Two Holland America cruise ships, the Zaandam and Rotterdam, are also approaching Florida, with the president of the cruise line pleading for assistance after at least 190 passengers and crew on the Zaandam have come down with flu-like symptoms. Four passengers aboard the Zaandam have died of the virus and their bodies remain on board.

The Coast Guard document warns that ships “should increase their medical capabilities, personnel and equipment in order to care for individuals” with flu-like symptoms “for an indefinite period of time,” as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned Tuesday that the state’s healthcare system is being stretched to the max amid a flood of new coronavirus cases.

“Just to drop people off at the place where we’re having the highest number of cases right now just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” DeSantis said. Experts have warned that Florida is emerging as a new hotspot for the virus after its surge in cases.

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