Florida's governor said Monday that he does not want passengers suspected of suffering from coronavirus on the cruise ship Zaandam to be "dumped" in his southern US state.
The Holland America Line vessel passed through the Panama Canal overnight as the company searched for a port that will allow the Zaandam passengers to disembark.
"We view this as a big, big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in southern Florida right now," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told Fox News. "I'm in contact with the White House on this."
DeSantis later said he would like to have medical personnel dispatched to the ship, which was originally scheduled to end its cruise in the Florida city of Fort Lauderdale in early April.
"The cruise lines can hopefully arrange for that," the governor told reporters.
"But I think a lot of these are foreign nationals, and we want to make sure we have the beds available for the folks here in southern Florida," he said.
The Zaandam crossed the Panama Canal into the Caribbean Sea overnight after canal authorities reversed a decision to block its passage.
It was followed hours later by its sister ship, the Rotterdam, which was dispatched from San Diego to take on the Zaandam's healthiest passengers.
Holland America said that before crossing the canal, hundreds of Zaandam passengers were transferred via "sanitized tender" to the Rotterdam.
The company said that currently 446 passengers and 602 crew members were aboard the Zaandam, while 797 passengers and 645 crew were on the Rotterdam.
It said 73 passengers and 116 crew members on the Zaandam have reported influenza-like symptoms. Four deaths have been reported among the ship's passengers.
Passengers have been self-isolating on the Zaandam since March 22, Holland America said.
The Zaandam had been stuck in the Pacific since March 14 after dozens of people board fell sick, and several South American ports refused to let it dock.
- 'Difficult and unprecedented' -
Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford said in a video message that the company was trying to find a destination for the stricken ship.
The situation was "difficult and unprecedented," Ashford said.
Apologizing to passengers, he said: "It's been a tough last several days."
The mayor of Fort Lauderdale, where the ship was initially scheduled to end its cruise on April 7, said it was not welcome.
Mayor Dean Trantalis said allowing the Zaandam to dock was "completely unacceptable."
"No assurances have been given" that the passengers "will be escorted from the ship to either a treatment facility or placed in quarantine. This is completely unacceptable," Trantalis tweeted.
"We cannot add further risk to our community," he said. "There are many places on the eastern seaboard where this ship could dock and be dealt with in a much more controlled environment."
French Deputy Foreign Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said meanwhile that Florida remains the "best option" for the ship's passengers, about 100 of whom are believed to be French nationals.
"Florida has numerous ports," Lemoyne told the France 5 television network when asked about Fort Lauderdale's reluctance to take the ship.
"We will continue our political intervention if necessary to find a solution," he said.
The Rotterdam arrived from San Diego carrying medical staff, testing kits and food for the Zaandam.
In his message, Ashford said he wanted to dispel a "myth" that one was a "healthy ship" and the other a "sick ship."
"Whether you're isolated on the Zaandam or isolated on the Rotterdam, the way that we protect the health of those of you that are healthy is to make sure that you're isolated safely while we figure out where it is that we're going to take you," he said.
The Zaandam left Buenos Aires on March 7 and was supposed to arrive two weeks later at San Antonio, near Santiago, Chile.
Since a brief stop in Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia on March 14, it has been turned away from several ports after reporting that some people aboard were ill.
US passenger Laura Gabaroni pleaded for help Sunday, saying that the ports that had turned the Zaandam away would have deaths on their conscience.
"Four people are now dead, and that is on the head of all the people along the way who turned us away," Gabaroni told AFP.