Cambodia's PM Hun Sen personally welcomes MS Westerdam cruise ship

12:13 | 14/02/2020

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen personally welcomed passengers and crew of MS Westerdam as it docks in Sihanoukville, Cambodia on Feb 14.

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cambodias pm hun sen personally welcomes ms westerdam cruise ship
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomes a passenger of MS Westerdam as it docks in Sihanoukville, Cambodia on Feb 14, 2020. Photo: Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

The MS Westerdam, carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, docked in the Cambodian port town of Sihanoukville on Thursday. It had anchored offshore early in the morning to allow Cambodian officials to board and collect samples from passengers with any signs of ill health or flu-like symptoms.

After tests, no one on board was found to be carrying the virus, Cambodia's health ministry said.

Cambodian authorities granted permission for passengers to disembark on Friday morning, the ship's operator, Holland America Line, a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp, said in an emailed statement, ending two weeks of uncertainty for the cruise.

Charter flights were being organised to help passengers return home, the statement said.

"Flight details are being communicated to guests as they are finalised, and it is expected that a full disembarkation will take a few days given the charter flight schedule," the statement said.

cambodias pm hun sen personally welcomes ms westerdam cruise ship
A cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone aboard might have the coronavirus is seen in Sihanoukville, Cambodia February 14, 2020. Photo: Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

The sound of cheering inside the ship could be heard from Sihanoukville port when the Westerdam finally docked on Thursday evening.

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.

"My wife and I gave him some chocolates as a show of our appreciation," Lou Poandel, a tourist from New Jersey, told Reuters after he disembarked and met the Cambodian leader.

“How wonderful it is to be here. Thank you very much to the prime minister. He has a wonderful heart,” said Anna Marie Melon, from Queensland, Australia. “I’m very excited (to be here)," she said as she waved the rose Hun Sen handed to her.

cambodias pm hun sen personally welcomes ms westerdam cruise ship
Passengers of MS Westerdam, a cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone aboard might have the coronavirus, get off as it docks in Sihanoukville, Cambodia on Feb 14, 2020. Photo: Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

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

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Cambodia for its example of "international solidarity" that the WHO has been calling for.

Stoking authorities' fears in countries on the ship's route had been the quarantine in Japan of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, also managed by a unit of Carnival Corp. Of the 3,700 passengers and crew on that vessel, 218 have tested positive for the virus.

On Tuesday, the Westerdam tried to dock in Bangkok, but Thai authorities denied permission. On Wednesday, a Thai Navy warship escorted it out of the Gulf of Thailand, and it set a course for Cambodia, the Marine Traffic website showed.

William Gregory, a 76-year-old American tourist, said he was very happy with how he had been treated on board during the ordeal.

"They kept us in good spirits," he told Reuters. "I didn't stress. Very relaxing. We took tai chi."

VNF/Reuters/AP