VICTORIA -- A retired couple from a suburb of Victoria are trapped on a cruise ship with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, and say they expect the situation to get worse.

David Kirkham his wife Norma say the captain of the Zaandam, a massive Holland America vessel, came on the ship's speaker system and gave the most horrifying news they could imagine.

“The real shock came this morning,” said Kirkham. “The captain said four passengers had died.”

The Zaandam set sail from Argentina on March 7 and was set to dock in Chile before finally ending its voyage Florida in early April. 

There are around 1,800 people onboard the Zaandam, including crew. So far, 53 guests and 85 crew members have reported to the cruise ship’s medical centre with respiratory symptoms, according to a press release from Holland America.

Two people have tested positive for COVID-19, the company said. It also confirmed that “four older guests” had died, but the circumstances of their deaths are unclear.

“When it happens on the ship you’ve been on, it puts a dagger in your heart,” Kirkham told CTV News from the isolation of his state room. 

The retired Metchosin couple had expected the cruise to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but now expect they will endure a lengthy quarantine and witness more deaths. 

“Four people have died – quite possible there will be more deaths,” Kirkham said, bluntly. 

The cruise liner has been searching for a port to dock at since early this week when COVID-19 fears first became a reality. The vessel is currently off Panama City.

On March 23, Holland America announced that 13 guests and 29 crew were showing “influenza-like” symptoms.

The company announced Friday that it will be transferring groups of healthy passengers to another ship.

Zaandam’s sister ship, Rotterdam, arrived in the area on Thursday. Health screenings will be conducted before anyone is moved, according to the release.

Guests who are over 70 years old and those who have internal staterooms will be given priority, if they are healthy, according to the company.

Kirkham said he and his wife are healthy and are striving to remain positive while quarantined.

“We long for Metchosin,” Kirkham said.