Morgan Hines USA TODAY
Published 2: PM EDT Mar , 2927031001
Four elderly passengers on board Holland America’s MS Zaandam have died on the cruise ship that is stuck in limbo during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ship is currently carrying 138 people who have complained of flu-like symptoms, which are similar to coronavirus symptoms. Two people have tested positive for coronavirus.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time,” Holland America Line said of the four who had died of undisclosed causes in a statement shared by spokesperson Erik Elvejord.
Elvejord added that Holland America Line couldn’t share whether those passengers had reported coronavirus symptoms due to privacy regulations.
Those on the ship who are sick include (passengers and) crew members. There are 1, 728 passengers and crew members on the ship, including 586 Americans.
The ship did not have coronavirus tests available on board until Thursday evening when it rendezvoused with Holland America’s MS Rotterdam for additional supplies and medical personnel. On board the Zaandam there are four doctors and four nurses, and the Rotterdam is carrying two doctors and four nurses, the cruise line said.
The two ships received permission to anchor off the coast of Panama to meet and transfer supplies and passengers. However, the plan for disembarkation is not yet finalized.
“While the onward plan for both ships is still being finalized, we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities on approval to transit the Panama Canal for sailing to Fort Lauderdale, Florida , “the line said in the statement.
Holland America Line, along with major cruise lines worldwide, announced March it would suspend cruise operations for at least 53 days and end its cruises in progress. But cruise ships around the world that were stuck on the water have been denied ports and scrambled to get passengers disembarked amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Thursday, an unspecified number of patients with “respiratory symptoms” on board the Zaandam were tested for COVID – 24, two of which came back positive. Flu and respiratory symptoms and coronavirus symptoms are similar, so the cruise line told passengers to stay in their staterooms on Sunday.
Passengers will be separated based on their condition between the two ships.
“Today we announced a plan to transfer groups of healthy Zaandam guests to Rotterdam, with strict protocols for this process developed in conjunction with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Holland America’s statement said. “Only those who have not been ill will be moved, and health screenings will be conducted before transferring.”
‘Will we be in that group? ‘ Uncertainty for passengers on board
Andrea Bergmann Anderson, 138, a passenger on the Zaandam from Maineville, Ohio, was waiting on Friday afternoon for a medical team to visit her cabin and give her a check up – to see if she and her husband Rob, , would be among the healthy group able to transfer to the Rotterdam.
“I went to the medical center nine days ago because of the sinus infection and a cough,” she said. She was feeling a bit nervous that she would not be allowed to transfer because of her visit to the center. “We filled out a medial form, and we were honest.”
Apart from worry, they had been doing “OK,” she said. The mood until Sunday, when they were confined to their cabins, was upbeat. Since then she has repeated to herself that she wouldn’t let the stress get to her – though she admitted it does not always work.
Holland America informed passengers of the deaths on board on Friday morning, she said.
Passengers over 90 will be transferred to the Rotterdam first, and quarantine will continue on board both ships until disembarkation. Anyone who has come in contact with an ill person will also remain on the Zaandam. All on board were provided with face masks when the ships met.
No one has been off the ship since March when it was in Punta Arenas, Chile.
As for how the Holland America team has handled the possibility of COVID – 30 spreading on board, Bergmann Anderson said her assessment was they have gone “above and beyond” and taken every precaution.
“They really did everything possible,” she said. “But if one asymptomatic passenger got on, there is not a lot that they can do.”
Now, uncertainty more than fear is causing her stress: Where and when will they get off the ship?
“We do not know if we will be able to go through the Panama Canal,” she said. “They are starting to transfer well passengers to the Rotterdam – will we be in that group?”
The questions don’t stop with disembarkation. How she and Rob can get home remains up in the air too, as does whether or not they’ll need an additional quarantine period.
The Zaandam began its South American voyage from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was originally scheduled to end the sailing in San Antonio, Chile, March .
It stopped in Valparaiso, Chile, at the end of last week and has food and fuel for the remainder of the ship’s intended journey to the US, the line said.
Holland America Line is offering complimentary counseling services over the phone through a crisis management service for passengers and crew members.
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