The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a statement to foreign-flagged cruise ships carrying sick passengers: stay away from the U.S.
The directive comes at an especially sensitive time for the cruise companies as over a dozen cruise ships remain at sea. At least three of them are currently headed toward Florida with hopes of docking at Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale. Today Governor Rick DeSantis of Florida said that the state would only accept Florida residents from the ships.
NPR.org reports that the directive leaves cruise ships responsible for bringing people ashore through means other than docking. For example, ship authorities could arrange to medically evacuate someone by hiring a private ambulance and helping to secure the victim a spot in a hospital. If the person needing medical assistance is ill with COVID-19, it may be hard for authorities to find a spot in a medical facility for that person says Rear Adm. E.C. Jones of the 7th District based in Miami, the official who wrote the directive.
Though the directive applies to all vessels carrying over 50 people, it singles out foreign-flagged ships that call on the U.S., particularly cruise ships.
"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.," wrote Rear Adm. Jones.
As the NPR.org article correctly points out, most cruise ships are flagged in countries other than the U.S. as a tactic to help the companies avoid paying U.S. taxes and avoid abiding by U.S. labor laws.
It is unclear if the three cruise ships currently hoping to dock at Fort Lauderdale will be able to do so under the new Coast Guard directive.