4 confirmed dead on cruise ship headed to Fort Lauderdale

Zaandam still sailing, currently off coast of Panama

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The statement posted on a cruise line’s website was grim.

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

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. But, the company states, that "due to global health concerns, Holland America Line 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."

Now, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, guests are sequestered in their state rooms and no one has been off the ship since March 14 in Punta Arenas, Chile.

1,243 guests are aboard the ship with 586 crew members. There are two confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 53 guests and at least 85 crew are reporting flu-like symptoms. Then there are those four passengers still on the ship who have died. The cruise line has confirmed if they passed away from coronavirus.

Zaandam is currently off the coast of Panama, heading towards Fort Lauderdale to reach Port Everglades by Monday, March 30, but local leaders are torn about bringing the ship here and unloading sick passengers and crew.

“I want to make a motion that we deny entry under unified command of that ship,” said Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine at a special meeting held Tuesday.

Barbara Sharief, Broward County Commissioner, District 4 stated: I think it would be quite inhumane of us to say that you can’t dock here."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Coast Guard are working with Port Everglades on procedures to decide if they’ll even accept that ship as cases of COVID-19 continue to spread across Broward County.

On Thursday, Zaandam received approval from Panamanian authorities to conduct ship-to-ship operations at anchor between the cruise ship and another ship, Rotterdam, which transferred medical supplies and additional medical staff to Zandaam. On Friday, the cruise line was working out a game plan to transfer groups of healthy Zaandam guests to its sister ship, Rotterdam, “with strict protocols for this process developed in conjunction with the CDC."

Holland stated on its web site that only passengers who have not been ill will be moved, and health screenings will be conducted before transferring.

"Priority for the first guests to transfer will be given to those on Zaandam with inside staterooms and who are over 70. Once aboard Rotterdam, all guests will continue to remain in their staterooms until disembarkation."

The statement went on to say that "any guests who are currently ill, or in isolation as a close contact, and all crew will remain on Zaandam."

The cruise line is offering complimentary telephone counseling services from Empathia, an employee assistance program and crisis management service, for guests and crew.

Anyone with family members aboard the ship board can call (877) 425-2231 or (206) 626-7398 for information.

About the Author:

Andrew Perez is a South Florida native who joined the Local 10 News team in May 2014.