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A Holland America cruise ship where four passengers died and at least two travelers tested positive for coronavirus was finally granted passage through the Panama Canal to sail to Florida after the vessel remained stranded at sea for weeks, officials said Saturday.
The Zaandam will be allowed through the waterway to ensure passengers and crew “an expedited return home” after Panama’s Ministry of Health approved the journey, the Panama Canal Authority said in a statement.
While it is unclear when the vessel will depart, traveling through the canal will allow it to reach Florida two days sooner.
The cruise line said in a statement it was aware of the reported permission for the ship to transit the waterway “in the near future.”
“We greatly appreciate this consideration in the humanitarian interest of our guests and crew,” the company said. “This remains a dynamic situation, and we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities to finalize details.”
The Zaandam cruise ship anchored shortly after it arrived in the bay of Panama City on Friday amid the worldwide spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
The ship was denied ports of entry amid the global COVID-19 outbreak and has been anchored off the coast of Panama with 138 passengers and crew reporting flu-like symptoms. There are 1,243 guests and 586 crew onboard the Zaandam.
The ship originally departed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7, and was scheduled for a 14-day cruise of South America, with plans to disembark in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21. It was trying to get to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after being denied permission to dock at its original destination in Chile a week ago.
Another Holland America ship, the Rotterdam, delivered medical supplies and medical personnel to the Zaandam on Thursday. Healthy passengers are in the process of being transferred to the Rotterdam.
Passengers look out from the Zaandam cruise ship, anchored in the bay of Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
“It’s like emptying a bathtub with a teaspoon,” a French passenger told Agence France-Presse via phone. “The boats can hold about 100 people, and they are putting about half in at a time.”
The Panama Maritime Authority said the four bodies would remain on the Zaandam until the ship arrives at its final destination in Fort Lauderdale.
The cruise line confirmed the four deaths involved “older guests,” but did not say where they were from, or whether those who tested positive for the coronavirus were among them.
Fox News’ Michael Bartiromo and The Associated Press contributed to this report.