Cana­di­ans re­main stranded on cruise ship

Calgary Herald - - PANDEMIC - ADRIAN HUMPHREYS Na­tional Post ahumphreys@post­media.com Twitter.com/ad_humphreys

Nearly 100 Cana­di­ans re­main be­hind on a cruise ship where four pas­sen­gers died amid a COVID-19 out­break af­ter healthy pas­sen­gers were trans­ferred to a new ship in a des­per­ate bid to find a port will­ing to let them dock.

Pas­sen­gers show­ing res­pi­ra­tory symp­toms had to stay on the MS Zaan­dam while pas­sen­gers who passed their health screen­ing were trans­ferred to its sis­ter ship, the MS Rot­ter­dam, on Sun­day.

While 150 Cana­di­ans made it aboard the Rot­ter­dam as the ships were an­chored at the mouth of the Panama Canal, 97 Cana­dian pas­sen­gers and one Cana­dian crew mem­ber had to stay be­hind dur­ing the coronaviru­s pan­demic, the Holland Amer­ica cruise line told the Na­tional Post Mon­day.

Both ves­sels are now head­ing north af­ter spe­cial hu­man­i­tar­ian ap­proval to tran­sit the Panama Canal.

Their fi­nal desti­na­tion re­mains un­cer­tain, how­ever, as the cruise line begs for “com­pas­sion and hu­man­ity” from a U.S. port to let them dock and un­load the 1,243 pas­sen­gers.

“No guests who had any res­pi­ra­tory symp­toms in the last ten days were trans­ferred, and no Zaan­dam crew were trans­ferred to Rot­ter­dam,” Holland Amer­ica said in a state­ment.

In to­tal, 797 pas­sen­gers were moved to the Rot­ter­dam, which has 645 crew mem­bers aboard; 446 pas­sen­gers re­main on the Zaan­dam with 602 crew mem­bers. On Zaan­dam, there are four doc­tors and four nurses and the Rot­ter­dam has two doc­tors and four nurses.

“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 com­pany said.

“The two ships will re­main to­gether for the rest of the jour­ney. Guests on both ships will re­main in their state­rooms un­til dis­em­barka­tion.”

A to­tal of 73 guests and 116 crew mem­bers on Zaan­dam re­ported in­fluenza-like ill­ness symp­toms by Sun­day, but the num­ber of pas­sen­gers re­main­ing on board sug­gest some symp­toms are more wide­spread.

The Zaan­dam be­came stranded at sea on its South Amer­i­can itin­er­ary when ports started turn­ing them away when the novel coronaviru­s was de­clared a global pan­demic.

“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,” Holland Amer­ica, the Seat­tle-based cruise line said in a state­ment Sun­day. “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.”

François-philippe Cham­pagne, Canada’s min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs, thanked his coun­ter­part in Panama for as­sis­tance in ar­rang­ing spe­cial pas­sage through the canal that links the Pa­cific and At­lantic oceans, Global Af­fairs Canada (GAC) said.

“We are aware of 247 Cana­dian pas­sen­gers and one Cana­dian crew mem­ber on the MS Zaan­dam cruise ship,” GAC said in an up­date Sun­day. None of the dead were Cana­dian. “We con­tinue to en­gage with the pas­sen­gers and Holland Amer­ica re­gard­ing these ships.”

The Zaan­dam’s cruise was orig­i­nally sched­uled to end in Fort Laud­erdale, Fla, on April 7 be­fore be­ing in­ter­rupted by the coronaviru­s pan­demic.

There was anx­i­ety among the pas­sen­gers at first, sev­eral Cana­dian pas­sen­gers said, but with no sign of ill­ness aboard, life on the lux­ury liner con­tin­ued close to nor­mal. That ended last week when pas­sen­gers and mem­bers of the crew started re­port­ing flu-like symp­toms. Pas­sen­gers were con­fined to their typ­i­cally small cab­ins and is­sued face masks, Thurs­day. Holland Amer­ica con­firmed two pas­sen­gers tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19 and “four older guests” had died on Fri­day.

The con­firmed pres­ence of COVID-19 in­ter­rupted the plan to rush through the Panama Canal to reach a U.S. port.

On Fri­day, the Panama Canal Au­thor­ity said the Zaan­dam, which ar­rived in Pana­ma­nian wa­ters that day, “had to com­ply with the reg­u­la­tions on health and preven­tion of con­ta­gious diseases” be­fore it could tran­sit the canal.

“If a ves­sel has in­di­vid­u­als who have tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19 on board, it can­not make any port op­er­a­tions or tran­sit the Canal,” the au­thor­ity said in an email to the Post Fri­day.

The rea­sons, the agency said, was to pro­tect the canal op­er­a­tions and the safety of its work­ers, since it is not just a case of wav­ing ships through the nar­row pas­sage.

“All ships tran­sit­ing the Panama Canal re­quire per­son­nel, in­clud­ing line han­dlers, board­ing of­fi­cers, and Panama Canal pi­lots, to board the ship through­out the tran­sit in or­der to en­sure a safe pas­sage through­out the wa­ter­way.

“These pro­to­cols are in place to safe­guard our cus­tomers and work­force.”

On the week­end, how­ever, the canal au­thor­ity re­lented.

Mean­while, the MS Maas­dam, an­other Holland Amer­ica ship also stuck with­out a port, docked in San Diego, Calif., on Thurs­day with 834 pas­sen­gers. None were re­port­ing ill­ness.

All 244 Cana­dian pas­sen­gers on the Maas­dam dis­em­barked and were able to board flights to Canada over the week­end, ac­cord­ing to GAC.

“We rec­om­mend that Cana­di­ans cur­rently on cruise ships con­tinue to fol­low up with cruise line of­fi­cials in or­der to stay aware of the lat­est in­for­ma­tion about dock­ing and de­part­ing,” the gov­ern­ment’s state­ment said.

“Once the cruise line has made these ar­range­ments, pas­sen­gers may then be able to ex­plore de­par­ture op­tions to re­turn home. For the time be­ing, we ask Cana­dian trav­ellers aboard cruise ships to re­main pa­tient and to fol­low the advice from health of­fi­cials.”

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