Cruise ship finally docks
Roses upon arrival in Cambodia mark end of an ordeal sparked by virus fears
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.
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.”
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) welcomes a Westerdam passenger as the cruise ship docks in Sihanoukville on Friday.