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4 passengers dead aboard cruise ship anchored off Panama

The Associated Press

Panama City – Four passengers have died aboard a cruise ship now anchored off the coast of Panama and two people aboard the ship have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the cruise line said Friday.

Holland America Line said in a post on its Facebook page that more than 130 people aboard the Zaandam had reported flu-like symptoms.

“Holland America Line can confirm that four older guests have passed away on Zaandam,” the statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time.”

The ship was receiving medical supplies and medical personnel from another Holland America ship, the Rotterdam and the company planned to begin transferring healthy passengers to that ship.

“Priority for the first guests to transfer will be given to those on Zaandam with inside staterooms and who are over 70,” the statement said. There are 1,243 guests and 586 crew on board the Zaandam.

The Zaandam departed Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7. The ship was trying to get to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after being denied permission to dock at its original destination of Chile a week ago.

The Rotterdam rendezvoused with the Zaandam Thursday evening.

“It is only authorized to do ship-to-ship maneuvers. No one aboard is allowed to come ashore,” said Panama’s Maritime Authority Administrator Noriel Araúz.

The Zaandam had planned to pass through the Panama Canal en route to Florida, but after being inspected by Panamanian authorities, the request to use the canal was denied, said canal Administrator Ricauter Vásquez. The Health Ministry “did not give permission,” Vásquez told reporters Friday. “The ship is in territorial waters but has to remain isolated.”

Holland America Line had announced March 17 that it was voluntarily suspending its cruise operations for 30 days “Due to the continued port closures and travel restrictions surrounding COVID-19 and in an abundance of caution.” At that point, the company said none of its passengers or crew had tested positive for the virus.

The Seattle-based cruise line is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp.