More lives could be at risk on board coronavirus-hit cruise ship Zaandam as it seeks a safe port to disembark passengers.

The stark warning came from the boss of operator Holland America Line in what the company described as a “humanitarian crisis”.

Four people on the ship, originally carrying almost 230 British passengers, died after it was refused entry to a number of South American countries.

Zaandam and sister ship Rotterdam, which took on board healthy passengers, were stuck in the Pacific before being granted permission to transit the Panama Canal so they could head to Florida for passengers to be flown home on repatriation flights.


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However, it still remains unclear where the ships will be allowed to dock.

HAL president Orlando Ashford accused countries of turning their backs on thousands of people “left floating at sea”.

In a heartfelt message, he said: “Already four guests have passed away and I fear other lives are at risk.

“As of March 30, 76 guests and 117 crew on Zaandam have influenza-like illness, including eight people who have tested positive for Covid-19. We have seen a notable and steady decline in cases of the last 48 hours, which shows the immediate actions we took have helped contain spread.

“However, there are also 1,167 healthy guests and 1,130 healthy crew across these two ships.

“Thankfully, the Panamanian government graciously granted humanitarian approval allowing us to move through the Panama Canal, which we did the evening of March 29.

“Even with this progress, we are still facing a multi-day journey before we can safely dock and disembark. And we need confirmation from a port that is willing to extend the same compassion and grace that Panama did, and allow us to come in so our guests can go straight to the airport for flights home.

“It’s tempting to speculate about the illnesses that may have been avoided or lives saved if we’d gotten the assistance we sought weeks ago.”

He insisted that the Carnival Corporation-owned line was “working tirelessly to find medical help and safe passage home for the 1,243 guests and 1,247 crew stranded at sea on our two ships, Zaandam and Rotterdam”.

He added: “Nations are justifiably focused on the Covid-19 crisis unfolding before them. But they’ve turned their backs on thousands of people left floating at sea.”

Ashford claimed Zaandam was forced to fend for itself due to a  “not my problem” syndrome.

“The international community, consistently generous and helpful in the face of human suffering, shut itself off to Zaandam leaving her to fend for herself,” he said.


Comment: Testing our deepest human values