PM: Govt. in discussion with US on new Coast Guard directive for cruise lines to seek critical care from flag-state
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Two Netherlands-flagged Holland America cruise ships, one vessel carrying COVID-19 patients, have been allowed to dock in Florida.
International media reported the ships — the Zaandam and the Rotterdam — were scheduled to dock at 1 pm and 1:30 pm respectively.
Holland America Line is a British-American owned cruise line and subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, which owns Half Moon Cay located on Little San Salvador.
According to reports, four people died on the Zaandam, with at least two people to have tested positively for COVID-19.
Another nine tested positive for the virus and nearly 200 passengers have flu-like symptoms.
The Zaandam left Beunos Aires of March 7 for a two-week tour through South America and was scheduled to end in Chile on March 21.
The swift spread of COVID-19 and the World Health Organization’s classification of a pandemic led to the partial closure of many countries borders, particularly in the Caribbean, before a full border lockdown — leaving many cruise liners sequestered in waters mid-voyage.
The permission to dock comes after a United States Coast Guard advisory on Sunday said cruise ships will be asked to seek aid, namely medical evacuations, from their flag state in cases of critically-ill passengers or crew prior to seeking the help of the coast guard.
The coast guard also advised cruise liners to prepare for sequestering for an indefinite time at sea.
It said due to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases and its impact on mariners and vessel operations, an increased number of foreign passenger vessels have required medical evacuation of both stable and critically-ill patients, including those with COVID-19 symptoms.
A source close to one of the major cruise lines told Eyewitness News that while high-level discussions were ongoing it is believed that in the event of critically-ill patients needing evacuation, it would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis given the capacity of local resources.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis the government was in talks with the United States government over the advisory
“Yes, I’m aware of that and there is an ongoing discussion between ourselves and the United States government,” he said.
The prime minister also pointed out that as the world has closed its borders, The Bahamas done the same.
He said: “Countries have had to do this to prevent the spread of a virus that has the potential to kill many people.”
In its advisory, the US Coast Guard said: “Foreign flagged vessels that loiter beyond U.S. territorial seas, particularly those registered to The Bahamas, that require a MEDEVAC to a shoreside facility should seek flag state support prior to seeking support from the limited facilities in the U.S.”
It noted that while the organization continues to prioritize the safety of life at sea, the increase in medical evacuations has strained local medical resources and that strain is expected to increase.
Last month, a Bahamas-flagged vessel — the Braemar cruise ship — carrying five people who tested positive for COVID-19 and 40 other people with influenza-like symptoms arrived in Bahamian waters, but was blocked from docking.
It did however receive permission to drop anchor, and remained 25 miles south west of Freeport until supplies were provided via a cargo ship from Freeport.
The vessel eventually set sail for Cuba, where more than 600 passengers were flown out from.