Four fatalities have been reported on a Holland America Line cruise ship with several Canadians on board, the company confirmed Friday.

In a written statement, the company said that 53 guests and 85 crew members on Holland America’s Zaandam have reported to the ship’s medical centre with influenza-like illness symptoms and two individuals have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Four older guests have passed away on Zaandam. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time,” the company said.

The nationality of the deceased guests has not been confirmed. Holland America Line later confirmed to the Associated Press Canadians are not among the four dead.

The Zaandam, which is housing 1,243 guests and 586 crew members, departed from Argentina on March 7 and the cruise was initially supposed to end in Chile on March 21.

That all changed when the cruise line decided to suspend global cruise operations for one month and end all cruises in progress as “quickly as possible.”

The ship is currently off the coast of Panama and the crew now plans to transfer healthy patients to a sister ship, the Rotterdam.

“Only those who have not been ill will be moved, and health screenings will be conducted before transferring. Priority for the first guests to transfer will be given to those on Zaandam with inside staterooms and who are over 70,” Holland America said.

“Once aboard Rotterdam, all guests will continue to remain in their staterooms until disembarkation. Any guests who are currently ill, or in isolation as a close contact, and all crew will remain on Zaandam.”

Holland America says all guests and crew received face masks on Thursday and were provided with instructions on wearing them.

Earlier this week, CP24 spoke to Toronto resident Anne Arthur, a passenger on the ship, who said she and her husband were ordered to stay in their rooms on Sunday after learning that passengers and crew members had become ill.

“Even though we weren’t allowed to dock and get off the boat the last couple of stops, people were generally feeling that it was fine. We did not expect someone was going to get sick because we had already been on the boat since March 7,” Arthur told CP24 on Tuesday.

Arthur said when she and her husband decided to go forward with the cruise, COVID-19 didn’t feel like a major situation in North America.

“It had broken out in Italy…We just did not see it progressing so quickly the way it did,” she said. “Things changed so rapidly after we left Toronto.”

The company said it is working to get the two ships to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. No one has been off the Zaandam since March 14.

"It was pretty shocking," Arthur told CP24 on Friday. "We knew people were ill, but we had no idea they were that ill."

Arthur said they had not been told much information about the four deaths. She said they and other healthy passengers are now waiting to be moved to the Rotterdam.

"We are sitting here right now with our bags packed. We're trying to stay positive. We had our temperature taken. We've had a health doctor in here come and chat with us.

"We have been deemed healthy," Arthur said.

She said passengers and crew who are considered unhealthy would stay in the Zaandam.

Arthur said both cruise ships are still waiting for the government of Panama to permit them to go through the Panama Canal en route to Florida.

- with files from The Associated Press