Four passengers died on a cruise ship off the Pacific coast of Panama, and more than 130 others on board suffer from flu-like symptoms, of which at least two have the corona virus, the ship operator said on Friday.
Holland America Line said in a statement that MS Zaandam, which was previously on a South American cruise, was trying to cross the Panama Canal and get to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. However, the government of Panama has denied her access to the canal for hygiene reasons, causing passengers and crew to wonder when they will be home.
Chris Joiner, 59, a retiree from Ottawa, Ontario, told Reuters that the cruise had become a "nightmare."
He feared that he and his wife Anna, also 59, would be forced to stay on board indefinitely because of a cough after cruise companies announced they would soon bring healthy passengers to the Zaandam's sister ship, the Rotterdam now next to the ship in Panamanian waters.
"We are isolated. We are stuck on this ship. We cannot go anywhere because we are not healthy, I think," said Joiner, who took a selfie in his cabin with a piece of paper on which he was writing "HELP US "to get media and Canadian government attention.
A ship's official informed passengers on Friday morning through a sound system that a guest had died a few days ago, followed by two deaths on Thursday and another overnight, Reuters said.
The four dead were "older guests," said the operator.
Passengers said the announcement was the first time they had been made aware of the deaths on the 238-meter ship.
The Zaandam left Argentina on March 7th and was due to end its journey in San Antonio, Chile on March 21st. Since she moored in Punta Arenas on the south coast of Chile almost two weeks ago, no one has left the ship.
There are 1,243 guests and 586 crew members on board, as well as four doctors and four nurses.
Holland America is owned by Carnival Corp. Carnival & # 39; s Princess Cruises announced earlier this month that the trip would be interrupted for two months after two of the quarantined ocean liners became breeding grounds for coronavirus infections.
The ship's official said a number of patients were tested on Thursday after the ship received virus test kits. In another Friday afternoon public speech, also heard by Reuters, he said the situation seemed to be improving.
"Some positive news: We have noticed that the number of guests reporting symptoms to the medical center has decreased," said the official, adding that the staff had distributed one surgical mask per person. He asked the passengers to keep them clean because he didn't know when more would be arriving.
Ian Rae, a Scotsman based in London with his wife on the ship, said most passengers are getting along "fairly well" even though they have been in self-isolation since last Sunday.
"It's probably not much worse than people in the UK or anywhere else in the world," Rae, a 73-year-old grandfather of four, told Reuters on the phone.
Rae, who said he and others had emailed the British government about their situation, said he understood that there were 229 British passengers on board. Other guests are Americans, Canadians and Australians as well as Germans, Italians, French, Spaniards and New Zealanders.
Relatives get nervous.
"It is appalling that no plan has been made for them and there are British nationals on the ship who need help," Hayley Johnson, whose 90-year-old grandfather and 75-year-old grandmother are on board, wrote on Twitter. Johnson said she was particularly concerned about her grandmother, a type 1 diabetic.
All ports along Zaandam's South American route were closed to cruise ships, Holland America said.
Around 53 guests and 85 crew members reported to the ship's medical center with flu-like symptoms.
"If they only find a port to dock, that would be a huge relief. The fact that they are only on board a ship is like sitting on ducks," said Neil Bedford, whose British parents are 65 and 63 years old are on board.
The Panama Ministry of Health has not given the ship permission to cross the waterway, said Ricaurte Vasquez, administrator of the Panama Canal Authority. Positive corona virus tests on board would mean quarantining the ship, he said.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)