Stranded cruise ship passengers hold hopes of reaching land
The Zaandam liner's plight is the latest affecting the global cruise industry, which has seen vessels refused entry to ports and others locked down after new-coronavirus cases were confirmed onboard during the pandemic.
More than 1,800 people stuck onboard a cruise ship off the Pacific coast of South America, with 42 complaining of flu-like symptoms, are desperately hoping to be allowed to dock – somewhere.
"Testing times," Australian couple Dimiti and Neal Bates wrote on Facebook. "Please don't forget us."
The Zaandam liner run by Holland America left Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was supposed to arrive last Saturday at San Antonio, near Santiago in Chile. Its plight is the latest affecting the global cruise industry, which has seen vessels refused entry to ports and others locked down after new-coronavirus cases were confirmed onboard during the pandemic.
Along the way, the Zaandam docked in Punta Arenas, in Chile's far south, before leaving there just days before Chilean President Sebastián Piñera closed the country's borders on March 18.
Soon after, the company suspended all its cruises due to measures including the closure of land, air and sea borders imposed by governments all over the world to prevent the pandemic's spread.
It headed back to Punta Arenas in a bid to arrange for its more than 1,200 passengers and almost 600 crew to take flights back to their home countries.
"Despite previous confirmations that guests could disembark in Punta Arenas, Chile, for flights, we were not permitted to do so," Holland America said in a statement on its website. "No-one has been off the ship since March 14 in Punta Arenas."
The ship sailed to Valparaíso in Chile where it remained at anchor last Friday to Saturday while taking on fuel, provisions and medication before continuing to San Antonio.
Rear Admiral Yerko Marcic, the head of Chile's national defence at Valparaíso port, said eight Chileans were allowed to disembark, along with two French people for humanitarian reasons because "they had a high risk chronic illness and their medication was not going to last until the ship reached land." There are more than 100 French passengers aboard.
The ship has asked all passengers to remain in their rooms "out of an abundance of caution" where they are provided their meals by room service.
Holland America said "all ports along Zaandam's route are closed to cruise ships" and so it had sent another liner, the Rotterdam, from Puerto Vallarta in Mexico to meet the Zaandam this Thursday off the coast of Panama.
The Rotterdam is carrying "extra supplies, staff, Covid-19 test kits and other support as needed" to transfer to the Zaandam.
The aim is to reach Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the US on March 30, "however we are still working on securing a reservation to transit the Panama Canal," the company said. "Alternative options are also being developed."