KEY POINTS

  • The MS Zaandam is fleeing to Florida hoping to disembark passengers and crew that are sick
  • 42 passengers and crew are showing COVID-19-like symptoms
  • Chile has denied the ship permission to dock. Panama might not allow the ship to traverse the Panama Canal

There are 30 cruise ships packed with holiday-seeking passengers still slicing through the world's oceans despite their reputations for being ideal incubators for COVID-19.

One of these cruise liners, the “MS Zaandam” owned by Holland America Line, is desperately seeking a port to dock so it can disembark 42 people --13 guests and 29 crew -- experiencing flu-like symptoms similar to COVID-19.

Zaandam is now stranded off the coast of Chile after being denied entry to ports since March 14. There are 1,829 people (1,243 passengers and 586 crew) aboard ship. Holland America is sounding positive when it says this outbreak might be the flu.

“Since it is flu season, and COVID-19 testing is not available on board, it is difficult to determine the cause of these elevated cases at this time,” according to a statement from Holland America.

Guests aboard the Zaandam have been asked to self-isolate in their staterooms until they have more information. The Zaandam is now sailing north towards the United States with the intention of arriving at Fort Lauderdale, Florida on March 30.

The ship has to sail through the Panama Canal to get to Florida but Panama closed its borders to foreigners due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 16. It's also uncertain if Fort Lauderdale will grant the cruise ship permission to dock.

Zaandam departed Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 7. This departure took place before Holland America’s decision on March 13 to suspend its global cruise operations for 30 days. The Zaandam was scheduled to end its current voyage in San Antonio, Chile on March 21. At the time the passengers and crew fell ill, Chile wouldn't allow the Zaandam to dock, fearful the ship might be contaminated with COVID-19.

"We're no longer a healthy ship," said one Canadian passenger. "We are now concerned that no port will allow us to get off."

Holland America said no one has left the ship since March 14 after a stop in Puenta Arena, Chile. Here, guests were initially told they could disembark for flights, but then were not allowed to do so for unexplained reasons.

"Get us the hell off this ship," demanded one passenger, according to Canadian media. "Get us out."

Holland America said "alternative options are also being developed" if it can't pass through the Panama Canal.