the dead had tested positive for coronavirus, with a further nine people on board the Zaandam cruise ship currently suffering from Covid-19. A total of 189 passengers have flu-like symptoms.
“One of the deceased passengers is from the UK,” a spokesman for the Holland America cruise line, which operates the Zaandam, told PA news agency. “Due to US … laws, we cannot provide any additional medical and health details.”
More than 200 British nationals are aboard the Zaandam which, along with its sister ship the Rotterdam, passed through the Panama Canal on Monday after being denied entry to several ports. Both ships are seeking to dock in Florida later this week.
The state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has pushed back on requests to allow more than 1,000 people disembark from the Zaandam, insisting that Florida’s health care resources are already at breaking point and would not be able to accommodate a sudden influx of coronavirus patients.
The US Coast Guard has said if local authorities cannot agree on a docking plan, the matter will go to the the federal government for decision.
Mr DeSantis said he had been in contact with the White House about ferrying medical supplies to the ships.
“Just to drop people off at the place where we’re having the highest number of cases right now just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Mr DeSantis said.
However, Donald Trump said at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing that he would ask Mr DeSantis to allow the ships to dock in Florida.
“They’re dying on the ship,” Mr Trump said. “I’m going to do what’s right. Not only for us, but for humanity.”
Company president Orlando Ashford wrote an opinion column in the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper to plead with officials and residents to let the passengers disembark.
“The Covid-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our common humanity,” he wrote. “To slam the door in the face of these people betrays our deepest human values.”
The Zaandam originally departed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 7 March – a day before the US State Department advised to avoid cruise travel and before any substantial restrictions were put in place in Florida.
The ship had been scheduled to stop in San Antonio, Chile, then complete another 20-day cruise to arrive in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on 7 April. But since 15 March, the Zaandam has been denied entry at a succession of ports.
Holland America said the Zaandam was subsequently forced to rendezvous with its sister ship the Rotterdam, which had no passengers and was able to take on nearly 1,400 people who appeared healthy. This left 450 guests and 602 crew members on the Zaandam.
The company said the two ships would remain together for the rest of the journey, and guests on both ships would remain in their rooms until disembarkation.
Coronavirus has put much of the industry on hold after a number of companies announced the cancellation of cruises until May at the earliest.
As countries close their borders and move to enforce strict travel restrictions amid the pandemic, at least 10 ships remain at sea as they finish their itineraries.
Additional reporting by agencies