Cruise ship awaits Coast Guard permission to dock in Florida after 4 passengers die with hundreds sick

(FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.) —  A 14-day trip from Argentina to Chile has turned into a nightmarish, seemingly never-ending cruise for passengers aboard Holland America’s Zaandam ship.

After nearly three weeks since passengers departed from Buenos Aires, “73 guests and 116 crew members on Zaandam have reported influenza-like illness symptoms,” according to a press release from Holland America dated March 29. “There are 797 guests and 645 crew on Rotterdam. On Zaandam there are 446 guests and 602 crew.” Two people have been reported as testing positive for COVID-19.

Among the guests are 138 Americans on the Zaandam, 166 on the Rotterdam.

Four older guests have passed away on Zaandam, according to the cruise line, one of whom was an American citizen.

Sister ship Rotterdam is now traveling with Zaandam, and passengers were transferred from Zaandam to Rotterdam to help distribute the workload among crews. Zaandam has four doctors and four nurses; Rotterdam, two doctors and four nurses.

On Friday, the cruise line started the process to move some passengers, including Laura Gabroni and her husband, Juan Huergo, to its sister ship the Rotterdam, which was sent to deliver supplies and COVID-19 test kits, according to Holland America. The transfers were completed on Sunday.

“We have been quarantined since the 22nd without being able to go outside,” Gabroni told ABC News.

On Sunday night the ships finally made their way through the Panama Canal, which had previously blocked ships from entering, and both are bound for Fort Lauderdale awaiting permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to dock, the company said.

Jan Black, another American passenger who was moved with husband Chuck to the Rotterdam, said, “They’re trying to limit how much they interact with the passengers.”

But others who are still quarantined aboard the Zaandam said they were unable to board the new ship because they showed symptoms of being sick.

“We’ve just been told we will not be allowed off the ship because we were honest and said we had been coughing,” Andrea Anderson explained.

Orlando Ashford, the president of Holland America, delivered a message to passengers on both ships overnight saying that their “intention is for each of these ships to work in tandem, to try to protect the health of those that are healthy, and so that we can create room and space so that we can care for the ones that are sick.”

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the ships need to submit a plan and it needs to be approved before these ships enter U.S. waters. Holland America has suspended all its global cruise operations for 30 days and end its current cruises as quickly as possible, according to a press release dated March 29.

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