Cruise ship fi­nally docks

Roses upon ar­rival in Cam­bo­dia mark end of an or­deal sparked by virus fears

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

Pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark from the MS Wes­ter­dam at Sihanoukvi­lle, Cam­bo­dia, on Fri­day. Hun­dreds were stranded at sea by novel coro­n­avirus fears that proved un­founded.

SIHANOUKVI­LLE, Cam­bo­dia — Hun­dreds of cruise ship pas­sen­gers long stranded at sea by fears over the novel coro­n­avirus cheered when they fi­nally dis­em­barked in Cam­bo­dia on Fri­day and were wel­comed with flow­ers by the na­tion’s leader.

Cam­bo­dian Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen agreed to let the Wes­ter­dam liner dock at the port of Sihanoukvi­lle on Thurs­day af­ter Thai­land, Ja­pan, the is­land of Tai­wan, the Philip­pines and Guam had ear­lier barred the ship.

“To­day, al­though Cam­bo­dia is a poor coun­try, Cam­bo­dia has al­ways joined the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to solve the prob­lems that the world and our re­gion are facing,” he said as the first pas­sen­gers dis­em­barked.

Anna Marie Melon, from Queens­land state in Aus­tralia, said: “How won­der­ful it is to be here. Thank you very much to the prime min­is­ter. He has a won­der­ful heart. I’m very ex­cited (to be here).”

Along with her fel­low pas­sen­gers, she re­ceived a rose from Hun Sen.

The pas­sen­gers cheered as they walked to­ward wait­ing buses and waved good­bye to other pas­sen­gers watch­ing from the ship’s deck.

“Your coun­try did a great job. Did a won­der­ful job. Thank you very much. We ap­pre­ci­ate it very much,” Joe Spaziani, 74, from Florida, told lo­cal re­porters at the port. He and many other pas­sen­gers wore a krama, a tra­di­tional Cam­bo­dian scarf, around their necks.

“Cam­bo­dia alone, even the United States, Guam, did not let us land, but Cam­bo­dia did, so that’s won­der­ful. Ab­so­lutely won­der­ful. We ap­pre­ci­ate it very very much. It’s been a long strug­gle and we ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­one be­ing here.”

The Wes­ter­dam was un­wel­come else­where even though op­er­a­tor Hol­land Amer­ica Line said no cases of the newly named COVID-19 vi­ral ill­ness have been con­firmed among its 1,455 pas­sen­gers and 802 crew mem­bers. Nearly 20 pas­sen­gers had re­ported stom­achaches or fever, but tests for the virus done at the Pas­teur In­sti­tute in Phnom Penh showed none had the ill­ness.

Hun Sen has said he acted for hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons and said at the dock he wanted to al­low pas­sen­gers to re­turn to their home coun­tries.

“I want to in­form Cam­bo­di­ans and the world that me com­ing here even for a short time means this is no time for dis­crim­i­na­tion and to be scared, but a time for ev­ery­one to be in sol­i­dar­ity to solve the prob­lems we are facing now,” he said.

Hun Sen has down­played any threat from the virus and his coun­try has de­clined to ban di­rect flights be­tween Cam­bo­dia and China. He said such ac­tions would dis­turb bi­lat­eral re­la­tions and hurt his coun­try’s econ­omy. Cam­bo­dia has so far con­firmed one case of the virus, a vis­i­tor from China.

Quar­an­tined lin­ers

The COVID-19 ill­ness has sick­ened more than 64,000 people glob­ally, in­clud­ing 218 on the Di­a­mond Princess cruise ship, which has been moored and quar­an­tined at Yoko­hama, south of Tokyo, since last week.

On Fri­day, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment vowed to step up test­ing and con­tain­ment ef­forts for the virus af­ter suf­fer­ing its first death and the confirmati­on of new cases, in­clud­ing a doc­tor and a taxi driver.

Some el­derly pas­sen­gers on the Di­a­mond Princess who had tested neg­a­tive for the virus were al­lowed to leave the ship late on Fri­day.

Ja­pan’s gov­ern­ment has given pas­sen­gers aged 80 or older in poor health or con­fined to win­dow­less in­ner cab­ins on the Di­a­mond Princess the chance to move from the ship to ac­com­mo­da­tion on land.

Separately, Aus­tralian health of­fi­cials tested a pas­sen­ger on board a cruise ship docked in Syd­ney har­bor for a “res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness” on Fri­day, caus­ing pas­sen­gers to fret about the po­ten­tial of an­other ship­board out­break of the virus.

The New South Wales state gov­ern­ment said health of­fi­cials boarded the Nor­we­gian Jewel shortly af­ter it docked in Syd­ney on Fri­day from a tour around New Zealand to un­der­take a rou­tine as­sess­ment of pas­sen­gers ar­riv­ing from over­seas.

A cruise se­cu­rity staff mem­ber, who de­clined to be named, said: “This virus is caus­ing havoc. We just want people to be safe.”

AP

REUTERS

Cam­bo­dian Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen (left) wel­comes a Wes­ter­dam pas­sen­ger as the cruise ship docks in Sihanoukvi­lle on Fri­day.

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