Cruise ships HAL can cross Panama Canal, but still looking for port

The Panama Canal Authority has granted permission to Holland America Line to transit its cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam through the Panama Canal. The Zaandam was refused access to a South American port after the coronavirus broke out on board. The ships now seek refuge in an American port.

Holland America Line (HAL) sent its cruise ship Rotterdam to the Zaandam to provide supplies, staff and COVID-19 tests after ever more passengers and crew experienced influenza-like symptoms. Later, it was decided to transfer healthy passengers from the Zaandam to the Rotterdam.

Passenger transfer

The transfer of passengers was completed on Sunday, March 29, before transiting the Panama Canal. The primary purpose of the transfer was to balance the workload between the two ships and to provide immediate relief to the service staff on Zaandam, which has fewer crew members working at this time.

Guests who moved to Rotterdam completed a health screening prior to transferring via sanitised tender, with all other necessary precautions in place, including wearing masks, social distancing and direct transfer to their new staterooms. No guests who had any respiratory symptoms in the last ten days were transferred, and no Zaandam crew were transferred to Rotterdam. Footage of the transfer can be seen in the video below.

Currently, 73 guests and 116 crew members on Zaandam have reported influenza-like illness symptoms. Four older passengers have died from the virus. There are 797 guests and 645 crew on Rotterdam. On the Zaandam, there are 446 guests and 602 crew.

Ships will travel on together

HAL states the two ships will remain together for the rest of the journey. Guests on both ships will remain in their staterooms until disembarkation, and all necessary precautionary measures are being taken on both ships that have been developed in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guests have not been ashore since March 14 in Punta Arenas, Chile, and have been self-isolating in their staterooms since March 22.

Port of disembarkation unsure

Initially, the Panama Canal Authority refused access to the corona stricken cruise ship, but came back on this decision.

‘We greatly appreciate this humanitarian consideration and the compassion shown for our guests and crew by the government of Panama and the Panama Maritime Authority,’ says HAL in a statement. ‘We are also thankful for the support of the various embassies that are partnering with us to help get their citizens home as quickly as possible.’

HAL was planning to sail the Zaandam to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the cruise of the Zaandam was initially planned to end on 7 April. However, the Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Dean Trantalis, says it is still very uncertain whether the ship will be allowed to dock. On Twitter, he says: ‘The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must create a plan to protect our community.’ He adds he would much rather see the ship go to a Navy base on the Eastern seaboard, where the ship can ‘be dealt with in a much more controlled environment.’

HAL in the meantime says: ‘We are still finalising the details for where and when our guests will disembark, and are asking for the same compassion and humanity to be extended for our arrival’ as was granted by the Panama Canal Authority.’

Picture by Andrew W. Sieber.

Related news:

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

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