Cruiseliner passengers set foot in Cambodia

Nellie Chapman
February 15, 2020

Passengers of a cruise ship that had been denied entry into several countries over fears that the people on board were infected with the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19), disembarked in Cambodia on Friday after authorities confirmed they were healthy.

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

The Sun today reported that officials are now checking the health of those on board after twenty passengers experienced various health issues. "He has a wonderful heart", said Anna Marie Melon, from Queensland, Australia, according to The Associated Press.

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen personally greeted the passengers with handshakes and bouquets of roses as they stepped off the ship and boarded a waiting bus.

Joe Spaziani, 74, from Florida, said: "Your country did a great job".

Meantime, US Embassy spokesperson Emily Zeeberg told The Post: "We are greatly appreciative of Cambodia's efforts and assistance, and its hospitality during this hard time".

One grateful passenger from New Jersey voiced her relief at finally setting foot on solid ground, saying "Thank you, Cambodia!"

"Cambodia alone, even the United States, Guam, did not let us land, but Cambodia did, so that's wonderful". "We appreciate it very very much".

"We greatly appreciated that Cambodia offered assistance to the Westerdam". Some 20 passengers were tested for the virus after they reported stomachaches or fever, but the tests done at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh showed none had COVID-19.

The Westerdam Cruise ship will be docking in the southwestern Cambodian province of Sihanoukville reportedly on Thursday, days after it had been stranded on open seas.

Hun Sen said he acted for humanitarian reasons and that he wanted passengers to be able to return to their home countries.

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"Westerdam is now sailing for Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where the current cruise will end".

The Kingdom of Cambodia doesn't just cooperate with China, but with all countries, he told the outlet.

News of the first death from the virus in Japan rattled Asian markets, already on edge after hopes that the epidemic was stabilising appeared to be dashed by a sharp rise in the number of cases on Thursday.

Overjoyed passengers used their new-found freedom to visit a nearby beach, while some even hugged Hun Sen - who has ruled the country with an iron grip for 35 years.

The U.S. has imposed diplomatic sanctions due to Cambodia's repressive political climate, and the European Union earlier this week declared its intention to do the same, citing human rights and trade union violations.

"This morning, just seeing land was such a breathtaking moment", passenger Angela Jones from the USA told Reuters.

The timing of their final journeys home was still uncertain, however, as the ship faces health checks by authorities and passengers need to be taken to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to catch charter flights.

But all passengers would have to remain onboard until flights have been arranged, said provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun.

US Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy called the disembarking activities "heartwarming sights ... with Cambodian hospitality on full display".

He said "joint operation "Homeward Bound" is underway!"

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