FLORIDA — A cruise ship that is bound for South Florida has dozens of sick passengers and crew members on board.
Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone spoke to one Florida couple on board who is not sure if they’ll return to land on Monday.
Central Florida residents Laura Gabaroni and her husband Juan Huergo left Orlando earlier this month on what was supposed to be a 14-day cruise through the southern tip of South America. But since Sunday, the 48-year-old couple has been confined to their cabin and not sure when their roller coaster adventure will end.
“We have been quarantined since March 22 without being able to go outside,” said Gabaroni.
The couple along with more than 1,800 passengers and crew members are stuck on board the Zaandam Holland America cruise line somewhere in northern South America, she told us Thursday morning.
The cruise liner left Buenos Aires on March 8 for a 14-day excursion through the southern tip of South America. But several days into the trip, South American countries started closing their borders and ports due to COVID-19.
“When we left Orlando there was only one known case of COVID-19 in Argentina and only about two case in Chile,” said Gabaroni. “So when we left on March 4 it seemed like a very safe place to vacation.”
According to Holland America, at least 77 passengers and crew members have reported flu-like symptoms. As a result, everyone is being confined to their cabins.
“We don’t know what the situation is and if it’s related to COVID-19 or not,” said Huergo.
The couple may soon find out.
According the latest updates posted on the cruise ship’s website, the liner will be connected with a sister ship to restock supplies and food. COVID-19 tests kits will also be dropped off.
What makes matters more alarming is the cruise line is scheduled to dock in Ft. Lauderdale on March 30, but it’s not known if local, state and port authorities will allow the ship to dock.
Officials in South Florida are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Customs & Border Patrol on a plan that can ensure the safety of healthy passengers while properly attending to sick passengers, according to Ellen Kennedy with Port Everglades in Broward County.
"We are not just numbers. We are people. We are human beings who need the help of our fellow human beings,” Gabaroni said. “Please help us so we can go home and be a part of the rebuilding process this country will need when this pandemic is finally over.”