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Cruise ship shunned over coronavirus fears arrives in Cambodia

Prak Chan Thul

Reuters

Sihanoukville, Cambodia  /  Thu, February 13, 2020  /  11:23 am
Cruise ship shunned over coronavirus fears arrives in Cambodia

The Westerdam cruise ship is seen past fishing boats as it approaches port in Sihanoukville, Cambodia's southern coast on February 13, 2020, where the liner had received permission to dock after been refused entry at other Asian ports due to fears of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand all refused to allow the ship to dock, despite operator Holland America insisting there were no cases of the deadly disease -- which has killed over 1,100 -- on board. (AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

A cruise ship which had spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone aboard may have the coronavirus arrived in Cambodia on Thursday to the relief of passengers and the praise of global health officials.

The MS Westerdam, which has 1,455 passengers and 802 crew on board, arrived at an anchoring point in the Cambodian port town of Sihanoukville early on Thursday morning, according to data published by the Marine Traffic website.

"We've had so many near moments we thought we were going home only to be turned away," Angela Jones, an American tourist on board the ship, told Reuters.

Jones and her fellow passengers had spent almost two weeks at sea as the ship failed to find a country that would allow it to dock.

"This morning, just seeing land was such a breathtaking moment," said Jones. "I thought: Is this real?"

Passengers on board the ship have been subjected to regular health checks throughout the troubled journey, according to Holland America, the ship operator and a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp.

Although no-one on board has fallen ill on board, the ship had been turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand over fears that someone on the cruise could have the new flu-like virus that has killed more than 1,300 people, almost all of them in China.

To kill time on board and break up the monotony of endless ocean scrolling past cabin windows, the ship's crew have organised dozens of activities to keep people occupied, tourists on board the vessel told Reuters earlier this week.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Cambodia for allowing the Westerdam to dock.

"This is an example of international solidarity we have been consistently calling for," Tedros said ahead of the ship's arrival. "Outbreaks can bring out the best and the worst in people."

Stoking fears of authorities in countries on the ship's route has been the ongoing quarantine in Japan of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, also managed by a unit of Carnival Corp. A total of 175 out of the 3,700 people on board the Diamond Princess have tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the Westerdam had attempted to dock in Bangkok but was denied permission by Thai authorities to do so. On Wednesday, a Thai Navy warship escorted the Westerdam out of the Gulf of Thailand, where it headed on a new course to Cambodia, according to Marine Traffic.

Westerdam captain Vincent Smit said in a letter to passengers the ship would be at anchor outside Sihanoukville first to allow authorities to conduct health checks on board.

Most passengers will be able to disembark and begin their journey home via chartered flights from Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, from Feb. 14, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

"We are very pleased to have our final plan," Smit said in the letter.

The U.S. ambassador to Cambodia said he had dispatched a team to assist U.S. citizens with disembarking and transferring to onward destinations, and was coordinating with embassies of other nationalities. (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Sinhoukville and James Pearson in Hanoi; Editing by Anantharaman Muralikumar and Lincoln Feast.)

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