For passengers on a Holland America Line cruise ship, a fun-filled voyage on the luxury liner is quickly turning into a nightmare with deteriorating conditions on board and fears of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak after four travelers died and two others were infected.
“We are stuck on this death ship,” said Yadira Garza, who is on board with her newly-wed husband. “We are freaked out and terrified that we will be infected too. It’s just a matter of time if we stay on the ship.”
Passengers on the Zaandam, currently off the coast of Panama, say they are desperate to get off the liner after Chile wouldn’t allow the vessel to dock. The company also said all ports on the ship’s route have also refused entry. Guests and their family members have taken to Twitter to plead for help.
Then came some good news on Saturday: the ship’s captain announced Holland America is moving some passengers to a sister ship, the Rotterdam, because so many crew members have gotten sick, said Garza. The Panamanian government also agreed to let the Zaandam sail through the Panama Canal, reversing an earlier decision to block passage.
Meanwhile, relatives of crew members on board the ship say they are being asked to work despite falling sick, or shortly after recovering from fever. Food is being delivered uncovered, with Garza describing finding hair and eyelashes on their plates of food.
Holland America, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment on conditions for crew aboard the ship. It said in a tweet it’s working with Panamanian authorities on the transit.
The Zaandam is the latest vessel owned by Carnival, the biggest cruise line in the world, to be struck with outbreaks of coronavirus, plunging the ships into dramatic public health crises that gripped the world’s attention. Now, some angry passengers say they weren’t screened adequately, even as governments, including the U.S., advised citizens to avoid cruise ships.
Garza and her husband say they were reassured by Holland America that health screenings and temperature checks would be conducted on passengers getting on board. Health screenings consisted of a self-reported questionnaire of symptoms, she said, and they didn’t see any temperature checks done.
“We thought that since it’s a very well-known company, they would take severe measures,” said Garza.
The couple, both in their 30s and from Monterrey, Mexico, boarded the ship March 7 in Buenos Aires for their honeymoon. The journey was supposed to have ended a week ago at San Antonio, Chile.
And they’re not getting off anytime soon. Joel Gonzalez, Garza’s husband, had a slight and brief fever a few days ago and they’ve been told they wouldn’t be transferred to the Rotterdam. They are seeking help from Mexican consular officials.
The captain of the ship, originally carrying 1,243 passengers and 586 crew, asked guests to quarantine themselves on March 22 after a number of people on board reported influenza-like symptoms, said the cruise line. Four “older” passengers on the ship died and two individuals have tested positive, it said Friday, heightening anxiety on board.
A total of 53 guests and 85 crew members have reported to the medical center with flu-like symptoms, it said. And when Garza complained about long waits for service, a ship doctor told her Saturday that 40 percent of the crew are now sick, she said.
Three relatives of crew members say they’re worried that their family members working on board and many of their co-workers haven’t been tested. Two of them say their sick relatives are being asked to work, with many of them working overtime. Relatives of crew members have been discussing working conditions via a message group and they have asked not to be identified because crew members were recently instructed to not speak with the media about conditions on board.
In an announcement to passengers on Saturday, the captain seemed to acknowledge the staffing shortage. The Rotterdam is delivering medical supplies and kits to test passengers and crew for COVID-19.
“We have to re-balance the workload of the crew,” the captain said over the loudspeaker, in explaining the transfer of passengers.
There’s growing concern about crew members spreading coronavirus. Crew members on two earlier Princess ships that had Covid-19 outbreaks hastened the spread of the disease to passengers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies released earlier this month.
Another cruise vessel, the Costa Diadema, has arrived ahead of schedule near an Italian port already busy handling other cruise ships, Italy’s transportation ministry said on Sunday. One crew member has symptoms that resemble coronavirus, the ministry said, and the ship will be checked thoroughly at another site.
On the Zaandam, like Garza and her husband, some passengers will be stuck on the ship, and may stay on as it sails through the canal and the Caribbean Sea, until it finally reaches Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Still, it may not be a straight-forward disembarkation. Michael Udine. a commissioner for Broward County, where Fort Lauderdale is located, said at a special meeting Tuesday that he wanted to propose a motion to deny the ship’s entry, Local 10 News reported. Broward has 820 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths so far, according to Johns Hopkins data.
After Zaandam’s stop in Panama, he said there should be strict protocols at his county’s ports. “There must be a strict plan put in place,” he said. “It must provide for the safety of all impacted.”
Lance Hutton, an 80-year-old retiree from Missouri, says he and his wife have been wracked with anxiety the past two weeks as the Zaandam sailed from its last port of call, Punta Arenas, on the southern tip of South America. Chile refused to let passengers get off and it sailed for days to the waters off Valparaiso, 90 minutes west of Santiago. The ship took on fuel and supplies, and was denied permission to dock before reaching Panama.
The transfer of passengers to Rotterdam alongside the Zaandam was “to spread us out,” Hutton said, relating the captain’s announcement in which he said more people were falling sick, many with respiratory ailments.
The couple, who don’t have any illness symptoms, thought they were finally getting off the ship. Instead, they were told by an officer aboard they are being denied a transfer because Hutton uses a machine to help him breathe during sleep and combat snoring.
“Now, we just want to get off this ship and go home,” said Hutton in a telephone interview from his little cabin with a window. “That’s all we want.
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