A St. Cloud couple have been quarantined in a small cabin aboard the cruise ship Zaandam since Sunday — embroiled in an international drama unfolding along the coast of Panama amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Kathy Carton and Andy Vinson boarded the Zaandam in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 for a two-week cruise. But as the pandemic spread globally, the ship was turned away from its original destination in Chile. Since then, the ship has been foundering along the coast of South America.
On Friday, Carton said the ship’s captain announced that four passengers had died, two had tested positive for COVID-19, and 138 others are sick with flu-like symptoms. The cause of the deaths is unclear.
“We are taking one day at a time,” Carton said Friday. “We just want to get home.” The couple feels fine, and has not exhibited any symptoms of the coronavirus, she said.
The Zaandam continues to wait near the Panama Canal because it has been unable to find a port to disembark its passengers, operator Holland America Line said Friday. The Panamanian government has said the ship would not be allowed to continue through the canal if anyone aboard had a confirmed case of COVID-19, according to media reports.
Late Friday, the New York Times reported that the Panama Canal authority would not let the Zaandam ship through, because it has Covid-19 patients on board. (Transiting the canal requires a number of canal employees to board the ship.)
Meanwhile, a second cruise ship, the Rotterdam, arrived at the Panama Canal earlier this week and will be used to evacuate healthy passengers showing no symptoms. It’s unclear when that will happen, but the first to move to the Rotterdam will be those who are older than 70 and passengers who are quarantined in inside staterooms without access to the outdoors.
Those who are showing symptoms, or their close contacts, will stay on the Zaandam with the crew. There are four doctors and four nurses on the ship; the Rotterdam has two doctors and four nurses.
Carton, who works for her family’s broadcasting business in St. Cloud, said she and her husband, a retired hospital administrator who also served as a Naval officer, have a cabin with a balcony and are relatively comfortable. They’re both in their 60s. She’s hopeful they will be able to board the Rotterdam and then head to the United States. It’s unclear what will happen when (and if) the ship arrives in U.S. waters. They are traveling with their daughter, Anna Carton, and her fiance, Shawn Williams, both of St. Louis Park, though they haven’t seen them since Sunday.
The lack of information and uncertainty, and the recent news of the virus’ spread, is disturbing, Carton said.
When the Zaandam left Argentina March 7 with some 1,800 passengers , the coronavirus hadn’t yet been declared a pandemic and there were relatively few cases of COVID-19 in South America.
“We would have never have gotten on a cruise ship in the middle of a global pandemic,” Carton said.