Cruise ship shunned over coronavirus fears arrives in Cambodia

VIDEO: REUTERS
The Westerdam cruise ship is seen passing a fishing vessel as it approaches port in Sihanoukville on Cambodia's southern coast, on Feb 13, 2020.
The Westerdam cruise ship is seen passing a fishing vessel as it approaches port in Sihanoukville on Cambodia's southern coast, on Feb 13, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

SIHANOUKVILLE (REUTERS) - A cruise ship which 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 (Feb 13), 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, 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," Ms Angela Jones, an American tourist on board the ship, told Reuters.

Ms 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 Ms 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 passengers have 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 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 Organisation (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," Dr Tedros said ahead of the ship’s arrival. "Outbreaks can bring out the best and the worst in people."  

Stoking fears of the authorities in those countries 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 the 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 Friday, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

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

The US ambassador to Cambodia said he had dispatched a team to assist US citizens with disembarking and transferring to onward destinations, and was coordinating with embassies of other nationalities.