FOUR Portland residents are among those stuck on a cruise ship off Panama on which four people died and two others tested positive for coronavirus.

Rose and Rich Harper and Jayne and Randle Gates are confined to their cabins on the MS Zaandam which has been denied entry to ports following the outbreak.

Cruise operator Holland America said more than 130 people on board had reported flu-like symptoms.

The ship, which had been denied passage through the Panama Canal, was receiving medical supplies and medical personnel from another Holland America ship, the Rotterdam, and the company was planning to begin transferring healthy passengers to that ship at the weekend.

The Harpers and Gates are among more than 200 Britons on board the ship, which is carrying more than 1,200 passengers in total and 586 crew. It had been sailing north from Chile and had been intending to pass through the Panama Canal before heading to Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

Mrs Harper, 61, said she and her husband became emotional after hearing the captain announce the deaths over a loudspeaker system, but that they were personally in good health.

“We needed to speak to our family before they heard about it.

“They where quite shocked asking us if we were ok and telling us to stay safe and that they were missing us. It was very emotional.

“We were in shock and obviously concerned about the families of the deceased, we knew they never had the proper equipment for testing but we never thought this would happen.”

One bonus for the Harpers and Gates is that they can talk to each other from their cabins, which are just a few doors apart.

Mrs Harper added: “We are also with our friends, Jayne and Randle Gates from Portland, who are about three cabins down from us, we do cabin to cabin calls regularly.

“The ship’s crew are amazing, we can’t fault them, they deliver three meals a day, knock and leave them outside. They have given us a pack of cards and they send crosswords, they put music trivia on the TV plus dance classes and workouts and I’m sure they are doing everything possible to get us home. Big shout out to the Zaandam and the Holland America cruise line.”

She added: “We had half an hour outside the other day before the news of the deaths but now this has stopped, the captain keeps us well informed with updates throughout the day so no complaints there.”

In a message to family and friends back home, Mrs Harper added: “The four of us are fine and thank you to everyone for all their good wishes and we hope to be home as soon as possible. We send love and hope to be home soon.”