As the Zaandam cruise ship approaches Port Everglades with four dead passengers and nearly 200 others with symptoms of COVID-19, maritime legal experts are saying the federal government could step in and force the South Florida port to accept the vessel.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, along with commissioners in Broward, has expressed concerns with allowing the cruise to dock. DeSantis has pointed to the state's strained health care resources as reason enough to keep the ship from docking.
However, the U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday that the decision would be punted to Washington if local authorities couldn't agree.
“With the declaration of the national emergency the federal government could step in and require the vessel to dock at Ft. Lauderdale," Attorney Lindsey Brock, a maritime legal expert based in Jacksonville, says. "Because, under the national emergency, the operation of the ports fall under the jurisdiction of the maritime administration under the department of transportation as well as the Coast Guard."
The head of Holland America, which operates the Zaandam, is calling for compassion from Broward. When a similar situation arose earlier this month with the Grand Princess cruise, Oakland’s port eventually accepted the vessel.
Maritime legal expert Robert Gardana says, behind the scenes, some deal should be worked out.
“What we need to see is Holland America step up to the plate," Gardana says. "We need to see a quarantine of all individuals exhibiting signs of COVID-19 to remain on the Zaandam, and all individuals not experiencing signs of COVID-19 head on to a clean Holland America ship."
Gardana adds that Broward residents would be protected by having those on the clean ship quarantined off shore for 14 days.
Another option is bringing in the military - like what happened with the Grand Princess on the west coast. The logical choice here would be using the U.S. Navy base in Jacksonville.
The federal government owns the port there.
The clock on this is ticking, as the Zaandam is expected arrive in Port Everglades as early as Wednesday.