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Cambodia has agreed to take in a cruise ship known as the MS Westerdam which had been turned away by at least five countries in the past two weeks over fears of novel coronavirus (nCoV) victims aboard. On February 13, all 1,455 passengers, together with 802 crew on the MS Westerdam docked in Sihanoukville, a coastal city in Cambodia.
According to the MS Westerdam’s operator, Holland America, the passengers had been checked for symptoms on a regular basis. In a letter to the passengers, the ship’s captain Vincent Smit said the vessel would be anchored outside Sihanoukville to permit authorities to proceed with health inspections.
After passing the health checks, passengers will commence their journeys home via chartered flights starting from February 14. Flights will depart from the country’s capital, Phnom Penh.
The United States ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, said that he has sent a team to the location to assist US citizens with their journey home.
“I have dispatched an Embassy team to Sihanoukville to work with #Westerdam & Cambodian authorities in assisting U.S. citizens with disembarking & transferring to onward destinations. We have also coordinated with foreign embassies of other nationalities,” the ambassador tweeted on February 12.
Ports denying entry
Japan, Taiwan, Guam, Thailand and the Philippines had all refused to allow the MS Westerdam to dock at their ports due to fears over passengers onboard being infected with the coronavirus. This was despite none of the passengers showing any signs of having contracted the virus.
The US Pacific territory of Guam released a statement on February 7, stating its reasons for the denial, including keeping the residents of Guam safe due to potentially virus-infected passengers, after it docked in Hong Kong on February 1 and boarded almost 800 passengers.
“While we feel for every soul on board the MS Westerdam, our obligation is to protect the people of Guam. Though Guam is prepared to deal with the potential implications of the coronavirus, few jurisdictions can screen, quarantine, or treat 1,400 patients at one time,” Governor Lou Leon Guerrero said.
On February 11, Thai authorities had rejected the MS Westerdam’s request for disembarkment in Thailand’s Laem Chabang Port. The following day, a Thai navy frigate escorted the Westerdam out of Thai waters.
The ship thereafter cruised to Cambodia after neighboring Thailand had warned the ship to not disembark in its capital city, Bangkok.