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Stranded Holland America cruise ship with 2 confirmed COVID-19 cases will be allowed to cross the Panama Canal

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  • The MS Zaandam, a Holland America cruise ship with two confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard, will be permitted to transit the Panama Canal, according to a statement put out by the Panama Canal Authority.
  • “The Panama Canal is preparing to facilitate the transit of the Zaandam through the waterway, after receiving authorization from Panama’s Ministry of Health,” a Panama Canal Authority spokesperson said in a March 28 statement sent to Business Insider.
  • On March 27, the Panama Canal Authority sent a statement to Business Insider saying that, under protocols set by Panama’s Ministry of Health, vessels under quarantine were not able to “transit the Canal.”
  • Four passengers have died aboard the ship, after an outbreak of respiratory illness sickened 138 people onboard.
  • The MS Zaandam will not be scheduled for transit until it enters the waters of the Panama Canal.
  • With the approval of the Panama Maritime Authority, the vessel is currently transferring its healthy passengers to its sister ship, the MS Rotterdam.
  • Are you a cruise-ship passenger or employee with a story to share? Email acain@businessinsider.com.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The MS Zaandam, a Holland America cruise ship with two confirmed COVID-19 cases onboard, will be permitted to transit the Panama Canal, according to a statement from the Panama Canal Authority.

“The Panama Canal is preparing to facilitate the transit of the Zaandam through the waterway, after receiving authorization from Panama’s Ministry of Health,” a Panama Canal Authority spokesperson said in a statement sent to Business Insider.

Holland America did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

The Panama Canal Authority is the autonomous legal body responsible for operating the canal. In a March 27 statement, a Panama Canal Authority spokesperson told Business Insider that, as per Panama’s Ministry of Health’s protocols, “if a vessel has individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 on board, it cannot make any port operations or transit the Canal.”

But now, with the authorization of Panama’s Ministry of Health, the ship will be “scheduled for transit after entering Canal waters,” according to the statement. The statement said that the Zaandam was originally scheduled to transit the canal on April 1.

The Zaandam is now anchored outside Panama Canal waters, undergoing a Panama Maritime Authority-approved operation in which healthy passengers are being moved to Holland America’s MS Rotterdam. It has therefore not had its transit scheduled yet.

“Traveling through the Panama Canal will allow the Zaandam to save two days in their journey back to Florida,” the statement from the Panama Canal Authority’s spokesperson said.

Holland America confirmed that four passengers have died on board the ship, while two individuals have tested positive for COVID-19. The Zaandam has been stranded off the coast of South America and Central America after different ports began closing to cruise ships due to coronavirus concerns. A bout of respiratory disease then broke out on the ship, prompting 138 sick passengers and crew members to report to the vessel’s medical center.

The cruise on the Zaandam was scheduled to last 14 days, embarking from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7. For some passengers, the cruise would end after 14 days in San Antonio, Chile. For others, it was due to April 7 in Fort Lauderdale. Those plans were diverted because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the cruise ship rerouted its course to sail north to an undetermined destination. 

Are you a cruise ship employee or passenger? Email acain@businessinsider.com.

Read the Panama Canal Authority’s full March 28 statement here:

The Panama Canal supports all efforts being made to ensure an expedited return home for cruise passengers and crew on Holland America’s Zaandam.

The Panama Canal is preparing to facilitate the transit of the Zaandam through the waterway, after receiving authorization from Panama’s Ministry of Health.

The cruise ship is currently anchored outside Panama Canal waters, where passengers are being transferred to Holland America’s Rotterdam, as part of an operation approved by the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP).

The ship will be scheduled for transit after entering Canal waters, which has not occurred to-date. According to the Zaandam’s itinerary, the vessel was originally scheduled to transit on April 1.

Traveling through the Panama Canal will allow the Zaandam to save two days in their journey back to Florida.

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