Corona deaths on board Zaandam, evac planned with other cruise ship

The coronavirus has been detected on Holland America Line’s cruise ship Zaandam, which is currently off the coast of Panama. Four passengers have died. The company plans to use its other cruise ship Rotterdam to get healthy passengers off the Zaandam.

Ports in the area are currently closed to cruise ships. That is why Holland America Line (HAL) initially sent the Rotterdam with 611 crew to the Zaandam to bring supplies, extra staff and COVID-19 tests after ever more passengers and crew experienced influenza-like symptoms.

In total, 53 passengers and 85 crew members have reported to the ship’s medical centre. Four elderly passengers have died. There are 1243 guests and 586 crew on board the ship, which has Rotterdam as its home port.

Transporting healthy passengers with the Rotterdam

On 27 March, HAL announced a plan to transfer groups of healthy Zaandam guests to the Rotterdam. The company stated it would do so using strict protocols developed in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is necessary as all nearby ports are closed to cruise ship traffic.

Only those who have not been ill will be moved, and health screenings will be conducted before transferring. First priority for transfer will be given to those guests on Zaandam with inside staterooms and who are over 70. Once aboard Rotterdam, all guests will continue to remain in their staterooms until disembarkation.

Any guests who are currently ill, or in isolation as a close contact, and all crew will remain on Zaandam.

Measures taken on board

Immediately after early signs of guests and crew presenting to the Medical Center with respiratory-like illness, the ship has activated precautionary measures were activated on board the ship. These include isolating ill persons and placing their close contacts in quarantine. Guests need to stay in their cabins and receive their meals through room service. All public areas are closed and the ship is operating at maximum sanitation levels. Crew who are not required for the safe operation of the ship are being quarantined. Other crew are asked to self-isolate when not performing essential functions.

With the arrival of the Rotterdam all guests and crew have now been given masks to wear along with instructions on when and where to use them.

In a statement, HAL says: ‘We sincerely regret that our guests and crew are dealing with this very difficult situation and we extend our sincerest gratitude for their patience and cooperation as we work through this unprecedented situation.’

Ship awaiting approval to transit Panama Canal

While the onward plan for the ships is still being finalised, HAL continues to work with the Panamanian authorities on approval to transit the Panama Canal for sailing to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Alternative options also are being developed.

On board since 14 March

The Zaandam was sailing a South America voyage that departed Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was originally scheduled to end in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. However, due to global health concerns, HAL made the decision to suspend its global cruise operations for thirty days and end its current cruises in progress as quickly as possible.

Despite previous confirmations that guests could disembark in Punta Arenas, Chile, for flights, the company was not permitted to do so. No one has been off the ship since March 14 in Punta Arenas.

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Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.