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A sunken boat closes PortMiami, leaving 16,000 cruise passengers at sea. When will it reopen?

A boat crash off PortMiami roiled travel plans during one of the busiest days for cruise ships in South Florida, with about 16,000 passengers on three ships idling in the Atlantic Ocean left to wonder when they can get to shore and make it home.

DJ Parker was one of 5,246 passengers on the MSC Seascape that was scheduled to dock at PortMiami at 7 a.m. on Sunday. But at 1 p.m. the real estate agent from Hampton Roads, Va., was having a buffet lunch with his family and worrying whether he could even make it out of Florida at all that day.

“We have a flight at 9:30 p.m.” he said. “Not too confident that is happening now.”

READ MORE: PortMiami currently closed after one killed when a boat hits the Fisher Island Ferry

The closure of PortMiami by the U.S. Coast Guard disrupted travel for an estimated 33,000 people, according to port figures released Sunday. About half of them are on the Seascape and the other two ships awaiting clearance to dock: the Carnival Celebration and the NCL Escape.

Crews recovered a sunken boat following a deadly boat crash with the Fisher Island ferry that killed one person on Sunday, June 25, 2023. Eliot Hess/Courtesy

Nearly 17,000 people were scheduled to board those three ships Sunday afternoon in the hasty turnaround of passengers and provisions that regularly unfolds at one of the world’s busiest cruise ports. Sunday is typically the busiest day for PortMiami cruise ships, spokesperson Suzy Trutie said.

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The three ships were scheduled to leave PortMiami between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., according to online schedules, but passengers were left in holding patterns by text alerts from cruise companies.

“PortMiami remains closed and the ship is still awaiting clearance to sail in,” Carnival texted passengers shortly before noon. “We will post a US $20, per person, onboard credit so you can enjoy lunch on us today.”

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The delays threaten a wave of missed flights at Miami International Airport. Spokesperson Greg Chin said the county-owned airport notified airlines of the situation at PortMiami, and that all rebooking fees are being waived for cruise passengers impacted by the situation.

Alex Berrios was eating soft serve ice cream with his family on deck Sunday afternoon on the Carnival Celebration. They live in Weston so they aren’t worried about logistics getting home. He described a cruiseship seeming to do a good job handling an extra day of sea as restaurants and pools reopened, children camps restarted and movies started rolling to accommodate passengers.

But with many passengers without luggage — cruiseships often collect suitcases the night before arrival for easier handling — swimsuits were out of reach for an extra day poolside.

“Thank God we don’t have to travel today,” said Berrios, who, like other passengers in this article, were interviewed through direct messages on Twitter.

Passengers did report some signs it wasn’t a normal day at sea for the stranded ships. Parker said on the Seaescape, not all of the restaurants opened, leaving the cruise staple of the buffet lunch in high demand. “It’s extremely busy,” he said. “Everyone is trying to get there at the same time.”

There was no word on when the ongoing salvage operation might remove the sunken vessel and clear PortMiami for cruise traffic again. The U.S. Coast Guard said early Sunday it lifted restrictions on the south channel, which cargo ships use. But the north channel remained closed.

Anne Skurnick, a Pembroke Pines resident also aboard the Celebration, said there was no sign of food or drink shortages as the day continued. “We were just joking about what’s for dinner,” she said.