FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Four passengers have now died aboard a cruise ship that’s carrying at least two people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Holland America Line announced the deaths aboard Zaandam on Friday, adding the deceased are older adult guests.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time,” wrote a spokesperson in a statement.
The deaths come after people began reporting to the ship’s medical center with flu-like symptoms. As of Friday, the cruise line says 53 guests and 85 crew members have reported symptoms. There are 1,243 guests and 586 crew on board.
Also on Friday, Holland America announced that a number of patients with respiratory symptoms were tested for COVID-19 and two individuals tested positive.
Currently, Zaandam is off the coast of Panama with its sister ship, Rotterdam. Medical supplies and additional medical staff have been transferred to Zaandam from Rotterdam.
Holland America says it plans 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 (CDC). Priority for the first guests to transfer will be given to those who are over 70.
Once aboard Rotterdam, all guests will continue to remain in their rooms until disembarkation. Any guests who are currently ill, or in isolation as a close contact, and all crew will remain on Zaandam.
The cruise line says it is continuing to work with the Panamanian authorities on approval to transit the Panama Canal and eventually dock in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Zaandam was sailing a South America cruise that departed Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was originally scheduled to end at San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. Due to global health concerns, Holland America made the decision to suspend its global cruise operations for 30 days and end its current cruises in progress as quickly as possible so guests could return home. No one has been off the ship since March 14 in Punta Arenas, Chile.