Two Holland America Line cruise ships -- Zaandam, which has passengers and crew ill with COVID-19 and Rotterdam, which has taken many of Zaandam's healthy guests onboard -- are heading for the Panama Canal. Now, it appears that they'll transit that canal and head for the U.S. East Coast.
In a statement late Sunday, Holland America said:
"Holland America Line can confirm that it was granted approval by the Panama Canal Authority to transit Zaandam and Rotterdam through the Panama Canal. We greatly appreciate this humanitarian consideration and the compassion shown for our guests and crew by the government of Panama and the Panama Maritime Authority. We are also thankful for the support of the various embassies that are partnering with us to help get their citizens home as quickly as possible.
"We are still finalizing the details for where and when our guests will disembark, and are asking for the same compassion and humanity to be extended for our arrival. The Zaandam cruise was originally scheduled to end in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on April 7.
"The transfer of guests between Zaandam and Rotterdam was completed earlier today, March 29, before transiting the Panama Canal. The primary purpose of the transfer was to balance the workload between the two ships and to provide immediate relief to the service staff on Zaandam, which has fewer crew members working at this time.
"The two ships will remain together for the rest of the journey. Guests on both ships will remain in their staterooms until disembarkation, and all necessary precautionary measures are being taken on both ships that have been developed in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guests have not been ashore since March 14 in Punta Arenas, Chile, and have been self-isolating in their staterooms since March 22.
"Guests who moved to Rotterdam completed a health screening prior to transferring via sanitized tender, with all other necessary precautions in place, including wearing masks, social distancing and direct transfer to their new staterooms. No guests who had any respiratory symptoms in the last 10 days were transferred, and no Zaandam crew were transferred to Rotterdam.
Holland America also said that currently, there are 73 guests and 116 crew members on Zaandam who've reported influenza-like illness symptoms. There are 797 guests and 645 crew on Rotterdam. On Zaandam, there are 446 guests and 602 crew.
Complimentary telephone counseling services have been made available to guests and crew if they would like extra support during this time. Consumers with family members onboard can call the Zaandam Care Center at the following numbers for information: 1-877-425-2231 or 1-206-626-7398.
The line's statement also noted that "due to global health concerns, Holland America Line made the decision to suspend its global cruise operations for 30 days and end its current cruises in progress as quickly as possible. At the time, Zaandam was sailing a South America cruise that began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 that was originally scheduled to end at San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. On March 21, Zaandam was originally scheduled to begin a 20-day South America and Panama Canal cruise from San Antonio, Chile, to Fort Lauderdale."
But now that the ships will sail through the Panama Canal, where will they dock? The line hopes it will be Port Everglades, FL, but the port noted in a previous statement that permission would need to come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other authorities.
In fact, in a subsequent statement issued on Sunday, Port Everglades said: :"Should Holland America receive approval to transit the Panama Canal, it would take about three days for the ship to reach South Florida. Holland American must then submit a plan prior to arrival that addresses a long list of Unified Command requirements for entry into a Port."
Stay tuned here for further updates.