Panama to allow COVID-19-hit cruiseliner through canal

Panama City, March 29 (IANS) Panama's health authorities announced that they had authorized the Zaandam cruise liner, which reported four coronavirus deaths and two positive cases amonf the people on aboard, to pass through the Panama Canal.

On Friday, Panama's health ministry had denied the ship, which was sailing in the Pacific Ocean with 1,243 passengers and 586 crew members aboard, passage through the canal on health grounds, reports Efe news.

“The ship will be allowed to transit through the inter-oceanic channel to continue its journey towards the US,” the ministry said in its latest statement on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Panama Canal Authority said in a statement on Saturday that it was “preparing to facilitate the transit of the Zaandam through the waterway, after receiving authorization from Panama's Ministry of Health”.

“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,” the Canal authority said.

“Travelling through the Panama Canal will allow the Zaandam to save two days in their journey back to Florida,” it added.

The Zaandam departed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and sailed through the Pacific towards Port Everglades in Florida with all passengers held in isolation and unable to dock after a group of people on board – 53 passengers and 85 crew members, according to the owner, Holland America – showed flu-like symptoms.

On Friday, Holland America said that four people aboard had died and two people had tested positive for COVID-19 and announced that passengers who were not sick would be transferred to another of its ships, the Rotterdam, which arrived in Panamanian waters on Saturday.

The 401 asymptomatic passengers on the Zaandam began being moved to the on Saturday, Panama's Maritime Authority said.

Sick guests and those who had been in close contact with those with symptoms, as well as all crew members, would remain aboard the Zaandam, the shipping company said.

This operation began on Friday with the transfer of medical supplies and other requested materials, as well as fuel.

The deceased aboard the Zandaam were of American, Swedish, English and Dutch nationalities. They will be kept aboard until arrival at their destination, the Maritime Authority said.

In its statement on Saturday, the Panamanian health ministry said that “taking into account the health situation being presented by the passengers of the Zaandam vessel” it had considered re-evaluating the measure, “in accordance with the health regulations and the new context of the risk faced by people on board and the need to provide them with humanitarian aid in order to reach their country of origin”.

Zaandam's passage through the canal, which will take place on an unspecified date, “will be carried out in coordination with the entities involved and taking into account all biosafety protocols, a measure that has been considered in a comprehensive analysis with the COVID-19 advisors of and the Ministry of Health”, it added.

“We are aware of reported permission for Zaandam and Rotterdam to transit the Panama Canal. We appreciate this consideration in the humanitarian interest of our guests and crew. We continue to work with the Panamanian authorities to finalize details,” Holland America Line said on Twitter on Saturday.

The navigation of ships through the canal can only be carried out by Panama Canal officials, who will go aboard and take command of the ship throughout the process.

The shipping company had said they hoped the Zandaam would arrive at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on March 30.



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