Florida couple stuck on cruise ship bound for Fort Lauderdale with dozens of sick passengers

At least 77 on board showing flu-like symptoms
Laura Gabaroni and Juan Huergo
Posted at 9:41 PM, Mar 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 11:37:54-04

TAMPA, Fla. — 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 rollercoaster adventure will end.

"We have been quarantined since the 22nd 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 ship somewhere in northern South America, she said 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.

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"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.

Laura Gabaroni and Juan Huergo cheers on cruise ship
Laura Gabaroni and Juan Huergo try to make the best of their situation while stranded on their cruise ship.

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. Coronavirus tests kits will also be dropped off.

What makes matters more alarming, the cruise line is scheduled to dock in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, 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 Prevention and Customs & Border Protection 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," Gabaroni wants authorities to remember. "We are human beings who need the help of our fellow human beings. 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."