cruise ship panama canal

4 dead and 247 Canadians stranded on nightmare cruise ship near the Panama Canal

A cruise ship that has been at sea since the beginning of the month remains stranded off the coast of Panama, carrying 247 Canadians and hundreds more passengers from around the world. 

Since March 7, four passengers have died onboard the Zaandam cruise ship, with 53 guests and 85 crew members currently experiencing flu-like symptoms. 

Two have officially tested positive for COVID-19 as of March 17, according to the ship, which was sailing a South America route. 

"Holland America Line can confirm that four older guests have passed away on Zaandam," said the cruise ship's company in a statement Friday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time."

It's unclear what the cause of death was for the four passengers, none of whom were Canadian. 

Currently, the Zaandam is carrying 1,243 passengers, and 586 crew members. 

Zaandam, which departed Buenos Aires before the height of the global COVID-17 pandemic, was originally scheduled to conclude its cruise at San Antonio, Chile, on March 21.

Due to health concerns, Holland America Line has been seeking a place to dock since cutting its cruise short on March 14. Initially it had intended to dock in Punta Arena, but passengers were refused the right to disembark by Chilean officials. 

The ship was also denied passage through the Panama Canal in order to dock in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and has since been sailing off the coast of Panama. 

The ship has since arranged a rendezvous with its sister ship, Rotterdam, and is transferring medical supplies and healthy guests over, prioritizing guests who are over 70. 

More medical staff are also being transferred over from the Rotterdam to assist the two doctors and four nurses currently operating on the Zaandam. 

All crew members will remain on the ship, as will guests who are ill or in isolation due to close contact. The ships are still working with Panamanian authorities to be granted passage to Fort Lauterdale. 

Lead photo by

Autoridade Marítima de Panama


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