Four passengers have died on board a Holland America Line cruise ship currently sailing off the coast of Panama. Many other passengers on the ship, the Zaandam, have flu-like symptoms and two have tested positive for COVID-19.
A total of 247 Canadians are among the 1,243 passengers on the Zaandam, which is also carrying 586 crew members.
Holland America — which first announced some of its passengers had fallen ill with “influenza-like symptoms” last Sunday — has since reported that a total of 138 passengers and crew aboard the ship have sought medical care.
“Holland America Line can confirm that four older guests have passed away on Zaandam,” the cruise line 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 cruise line didn’t provide a cause of death for the four passengers, but stated that the ship tested a number of patients with respiratory symptoms for COVID-19 on Thursday, with two individuals testing positive.
Passenger Norma Kirkham, of Victoria, said the ship’s captain had announced the deaths.
“We received very sad news just now. Four guests have died: one overnight, two yesterday and one the day before. This has hit us very hard,” said the 63-year-old Kirkham. “This is shocking news and just beginning to sink in.”
Kirkham’s 68-year-old husband, David, said he believes the deaths were related to COVID-19.
“It really drives home how lethal this disease is,” he said. “It’s quite possible more will die.”
The Zaandam, which was on a South American cruise, had initially planned to dock 10 days ago in Punta Arenas, Chile to allow passengers to fly home amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the country refused to allow passengers to disembark, and the ship is now hoping to secure passage through the Panama Canal in order to dock in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by the end of the month.
Panama has currently closed its borders as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China but has since spread throughout the world.
Holland America said docking plans are still being finalized.
David Kirkham fears the ship won’t be able to pass through the canal or find a place to dock now that there are passengers on board confirmed to have coronavirus.
“Who’s going to take us?” he said. “We don’t know where we’ll end up.”
Holland America said it plans to transfer healthy passengers to its sister ship, the Rotterdam which is currently with the Zaandam. Priority will be given to passengers over the age of 70 who have an inside cabin, the company said.
Any guests who are currently ill and all crew will remain on board the Zaandam.