More COVID-19 cases on stranded cruise ship with 4 dead. Cruise line pleads for help

A total of eight people have now tested positive for COVID-19 and 193 have fallen ill aboard the Zaandam, a Holland America Line cruise ship sailing in the Caribbean Sea with no definite place to dock. 

On Friday, Holland America announced that four passengers on board had died, and on Monday night, the cruise line’s president warned there could be more deaths to come.

“I fear other lives are at risk,” Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line, wrote in a lengthy statement on the company’s website. 

He also made a plea for a port to accept the “stranded” cruise ship and its sick passengers. The Zaandam had planned to dock in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but politicians there have voiced concerns about allowing in a coronavirus-hit ship.

“We are dealing with a ‘not my problem’ syndrome,” said Ashford, who reprimanded previous countries that closed their ports to the wandering cruise ship.

“It’s tempting to speculate about the illnesses that may have been avoided or lives saved if we’d gotten the assistance we sought weeks ago,” he said. 

Constant Rejection

A total of 247 Canadians are among the 1,243 passengers on the Zaandam and its sister ship, the Rotterdam. That ship joined the Zaandam on Friday and took on more than half of its passengers to relieve the dwindling number of Zaandam crew members who haven’t fallen ill. The two ships are travelling together. 

The Zandaam is carrying 586 crew members — one of whom is Canadian.

After cutting short its South American cruise on March 14 amidst the growing COVID-19 epidemic, the Zaandam has been searching for a place to dock so its passengers could return home. 

Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line, says the illnesses and four deaths onboard the Zaandam cruise ship may have been avoided if countries hadn’t rejected the ship’s request to dock. (Holland America)

Ashford said that the ship had arranged to dock on Punta Arenas, Chile, on March 16, but the country rejected the Zaandam after closing its borders due to COVID-19 concerns.

Ashford said Argentina and Peru also closed their borders and rejected the ship.

“Repeated requests for humanitarian consideration were denied,” he wrote

And the consequences were dire, suggested Ashford. By March 22, people began falling ill and four passengers eventually died. The causes of death of the four passengers weren’t revealed.

In his statement, Ashford also suggested countries have been uncooperative in helping the Zaandam obtain medical supplies.

“Nations are reluctant to share provisions or afraid to carry critical supplies out to us. What happens when our supplies run out?” he said.

Ashford also revealed that the number of COVID-19 cases on the Zaandam has jumped from two to eight since March 22. 

That number may be higher, as some passengers with a cough or cold have told CBC News they haven’t been tested for the virus. 

‘It’s stressful’

Meanwhile, passengers are desperate for news that Fort Lauderdale will accept both the Rotterdam and the Zaandam, so that they can finally end their saga and return home. Passengers began their cruise on March 7.

“It’s stressful. I’m trying to stay positive — it’s not easy,” said Margaret Tilley, 71, of Nanaimo, B.C. who’s been confined to her cabin since the illness outbreak one week ago. 

“That was a frightening day when [the captain] announced those deaths. I was in tears. I was so scared,” Tilley said.

John Williams, 72, remains confined to his cabin on Holland America’s Zaandam cruise ship. (Submitted by Tanya Williams)

Politicians in Fort Lauderdale continue to deliberate whether to accept the ships, arguing the surrounding county is already overrun with COVID-19 cases.

“We have enough to deal with, with our folks in Florida,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference Monday.

County officials are scheduled to make a decision on Tuesday, which is perhaps why Orlando posted his plea for a welcoming port Monday night.

Now, he and 1,243 stranded passengers must wait and hope their pattern of rejection ends soon. 

“It’s just a waiting game,” said Tilley. “We can’t solve it ourselves. We can’t fix anything…We’re at their mercy.”

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