“Holland America Line can confirm that four older guests have passed away on Zaandam,” the company said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time.”
The Panama Canal Authority has recently blocked access to the MS Zaandam from entering the canal after receiving reports of the two confirmed cases of coronavirus. A report from Business Insider claims that the authority was only following the protocol of Panama's Ministry of Health to prevent any vessel harboring individuals with COVID-19 from making any port operations or transit within the Canal.
Now, the ship was receiving medical supplies and even medical personnel from another Holland America ship, the Rotterdam, ported close by and the company planned to start transferring those not exhibiting symptoms to the other ship. (Related: Miami cruise ship turned away over coronavirus fears. crew member "unwell.")
“Priority for the first guests to transfer will be given to those on Zaandam with inside staterooms and who are over 70,” the statement said. Reports claim that there are a total of 1,243 guests and 586 crew aboard the Zaandam.
As for the bodies of those who succumbed to the virus, authorities claim that they would remain on the original ship until the liner arrives at its final destination. However, the rest of the passengers aboard both Holland America ships wouldn't be allowed ashore in Panama, according to Noriel Arauz, the administrator of the Panama Maritime Authority.
As of writing, Panama's health ministry reported that there are a total of 786 coronavirus cases in the country with 14 corona-related deaths.
The cruise on the anchored ship was supposed to last 14 days, embarking from Argentina on March 7. For many of the passengers, their cruise would come to a close in San Antonio, Chile while others would end their trip on April 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. However, the coronavirus pandemic has diverted these plants, causing the ship to reroute its course to sail north toward an undetermined destination. Unsurprisingly, many of the passengers were quite shaken by this turn of events.
In a report from Reuters, Chris Joiner, 59, recounted his experiences as his cruise ship vacation slowly turned into a living "nightmare." Joiner was worried that he and his wife wouldn't be able to leave the ship because his wife was found to have a cough.
“We’re isolated. We’re stuck on this ship. We can’t go anywhere because we’re not healthy, I guess,” said Joiner. Tha Ontario retiree even took a selfie in his cabin with a piece of paper on which he had written "HELP US" to catch the attention of media and the Canadian government.
Another passenger, Neil Bedford, expressed his concerns about the welfare of his parents, who are both in their 60s.
“They are just growing increasingly concerned with what will happen to them,” said Bedford. “There is a new ship alongside them, the Rotterdam, which the healthy will be evacuated to, but they will need testing first before that can happen. They are becoming terrified of being stuck on board the ship.”
According to the cruise line statement, Zaandam currently has four doctors and four nurses on board while the Rotterdam had two doctors and four nurses. Holland America Line had also announced on March 17 that the cruise line was suspending all operations for 30 days because of the various travel restrictions and port closures caused by the global pandemic. However, at that point in time, none of the passengers have tested positive for the coronavirus.