A Nanaimo couple, stranded by COVID-19 aboard the Holland America Line cruise ship Zaandam, are hoping to escape an outbreak of illness on the ship that has claimed four lives and sickened more than 100 passengers and crew. (Photo submitted)

Nanaimo couple caught aboard cruise ship with four dead and COVID-19 present

Four ‘older guests’ have died on Holland America’s Zaandam, cruise line confirms two COVID-19 cases

A cruise ship that was sickness-free just days ago is now reporting multiple deaths and dozens of potential cases of COVID-19, and people from Nanaimo are still stranded on board.

Holland America Line confirmed in an media advisory Friday, March 27, that of the 1,243 guests and 586 crew currently aboard the Zaandam, currently at anchor off the coast of Panama, 53 passengers and 85 crew have reported to the ship’s medical centre with flu-like symptoms.

Maggie Tilley and her husband David Andrews, who started on their cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7, have been unable to disembark since countries in South America started closing their borders mid-month.

“Sad news. Four people on board passed away yesterday and overnight,” Tilley said in an e-mail Friday. “Testing has started and [there are] COVID-19 positive test results. I am still feeling fine.”

Holland America Line has arranged for the Zaandam to rendezvous with its sister ship Rotterdam to transfer some passengers and medical staff between the two ships and reported it received approval from Panamanian authorities for ship-to-ship operations. Medical supplies and medical staff have been transferred to the Zaandam.

“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 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the press release noted.

But only those passengers who have not been ill will be moved, health screenings will be conducted before transferring and priority for the first guests to transfer will be given to those on the Zaandam with inside staterooms and who are over 70.

“I am worried because David has a stupid cough that he hasn’t been able to shake for months,” Tilley said. “Fingers crossed we get moved.”

She went on to say the voyage has “become a nightmare.”

“It is hard to eat the food because it has gone down in quality and I feel it may be contaminated,” Tilley said. “My guess is that the kitchen staff has been hit hard. A lot more crew are sick than guests. A couple of days ago we heard 86 crew and 40-odd guests, but it is climbing fast.”

She said another Nanaimo couple on the ship whom she knows are also in good health.

Passengers started coming to the ship’s medical centre with flu-like symptoms Saturday. As of Thursday, two passengers had tested positive for COVID-19, Holland America confirmed.

“When Zaandam first saw a number of guests reporting to the medical center with influenza-like illness symptoms, we took immediate protective measures, including asking all guests to self-isolate in their staterooms and implementing all other appropriate precautions that have been developed in coordination with the CDC. All guests and crew received face masks yesterday and were provided with instructions on when and how to wear them,” the company said in its press release.

Holland America confirmed the deaths of “four older guests” aboard the Zaandam.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time,” the statement noted.

READ ALSO: Canada will ban cruise ships with over 500 people from docking until July

The cruise is offering counselling services to passengers and crew and contact information for people with family aboard.

“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, Fla.,” the release noted.

Anyone wishing to obtain information about family members aboard the Zandaam is asked to call 1-877-425-2231 or 1-206-626-7398.

READ ALSO: Stay informed about COVID-19



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