Two people on the Coral Princess cruise ship, which reported 12 positive cases of coronavirus on Thursday, died overnight, according to an announcement from the ship’s captain Saturday morning. He made the announcement not long before the ship ended its long voyage in Miami.
The captain did not say whether those passengers had confirmed cases of coronavirus but said they were being treated in the medical center when they died, according to a recording of the announcement provided to The Washington Post.
“I know how difficult this news is to bear, but given the current situation, we remain committed to transparent and consistent communication with you,” he said. “This information will need to be shared with shoreside authorities and will become public, so I wanted you to hear it from me first.”
Princess Cruises confirmed the deaths in a statement and said the company was “deeply saddened.”
“Our hearts go out to their family, friends, and all who are impacted by this loss," the statement said.
Coral Princess had earlier intended to arrive in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades on Saturday, but notified officials in Broward County of a change in plans on Friday. The U.S. Coast Guard required the ship to have a plan in place for treating ill passengers on board and evacuating those who were too sick to stay before it was allowed to enter U.S. waters.
In Miami-Dade, the county’s mayor said discussions started Friday about allowing the ship to dock there. The plan was in place by early Saturday morning, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.
“We had some people who were dying on that ship and we had to get them here as fast as possible,” said Gimenez, a former firefighter. “At the end of the day, we’re going to save lives.”
He said six people originally needed to be evacuated from the ship, but that number included the two who died — a development he called “heartbreaking news.” Carnival Corp., the parent company of Princess Cruises, arranged for two to go to a Miami hospital and another two to go to a hospital in Tampa, the mayor said.
More than 20 passengers were still too ill to leave the ship, along with 38 crew, Gimenez said.
Of the 1,020 passengers on board, about 993 were expected to be declared fit to fly, he said. They will be taken by bus straight to Miami International Airport, where most will avoid terminals and take charter flights. A minority of the passengers, he said, would take commercial flights; those passengers would be brought to a terminal that is not being used until they board.
Everyone will be told to wear masks until they get home and self-isolate for 14 days.
The ship appeared to be following the playbook of Zaandam and Rotterdam, two Holland America Line ships that arrived in Port Everglades on Thursday after four passengers on Zaandam died. Princess Cruises said the guests who are cleared to fly are expected to start disembarking Sunday.
“Disembarkation of guests is expected to take several days due to limited flight availability,” the cruise company said. “Guests requiring shoreside medical care will be prioritized to disembark first.”
New Jersey resident Paul Nahm, whose parents Peter and Grace Nahm are on the ship and sick, said that they were hanging in there Saturday, though he said no one from the ship had checked on them as of early afternoon. His father, 71, tested positive for coronavirus earlier in the week and his mother, 72, was still waiting for a diagnosis.
“I’m hoping that they’ll be medically fit to fly home in the next few days,” he said in a message. “Seems as if there’s good protocol now, though, and glad people who had to go to [the] hospital went.”
Coral Princess left San Antonio, Chile, on March 5. A week later, Princess Cruises announced it was suspending operations, a move the rest of the industry followed. But only some passengers were able to disembark on March 19 in Buenos Aires, and ports in Uruguay and Brazil denied requests to let passengers off.
Everyone had free run of the ship until Tuesday, when the operator said a “higher-than-normal number” of people reported flu-like symptoms and ordered passengers to stay in their rooms.
Dozens of cruise ships around the world have now had confirmed cases of coronavirus on board, but Princess Cruises has had the highest number of passengers infected and several deaths.
The Diamond Princess, where more than 700 people eventually tested positive, was quarantined off Japan in February. Grand Princess followed in March in California, where hundreds of passengers were forced to quarantine at U.S. military bases; at least 100 tested positive. And more than 600 cases and seven deaths have been linked to the Ruby Princess in Australia, Reuters reported Saturday.