The operators of a cruise ship that was barred from docking by four governments over fears of a new virus that originated in China announced Wednesday that it will finally disembark passengers in Cambodia.
Thailand refused Tuesday to allow the MS Westerdam to dock at a Thai port after it had already been turned away by the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan.
The ship was unwelcome despite assurances from operator Holland America Line that no cases of the viral disease known as COVID-19 have been confirmed among the more than 2,200 passengers and crew on board.
U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy confirmed on Twitter late Wednesday night that Cambodia had authorized the ship to dock in the port of Sihanoukville. He said he had dispatched an embassy team to work with the ship’s representatives and Cambodian officials to help U.S. citizens disembark and transfer to their onward destinations.
“We have also coordinated with foreign embassies of other nationalities,” he wrote.
Fear about the spread of the disease has heightened since Japan’s health ministry confirmed at least 174 cases aboard another cruise ship that is quarantined in Yokohama, Japan.
A statement on Holland America Line’s website said the Westerdam would arrive in Sihanoukville Thursday morning. It said the cruise will end there and passengers will disembark over several days and transfer via charter flights to Phnom Penh to catch flights home.
“All approvals have been received and we are extremely grateful to the Cambodian authorities for their support,” it said.
The Westerdam began its cruise in Singapore last month and its last stop before it was refused further landings was in Hong Kong, where 50 cases of the viral disease have been confirmed.
A passenger on the ship who has been posting messages and photos on Twitter, Christina Kerby, expressed relief at the news about Cambodia.
“Homeward bound! The #Westerdam is headed for Cambodia,” she tweeted. “Were told by the captain that it may take a few days to get everyone on chartered flights to Phnom Penh and then home. Elated at the prospect of touching land tomorrow. Until then, I’ll work on my towel animals.”
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a strong supporter of China, has played down any threat from the new virus and threatened to kick out reporters or officials seen wearing face masks.
Unlike other Asian nations, he has declined to ban direct flights between Cambodia and China, saying that would disturb bilateral relations and hurt his country’s economy. Cambodia has registered one confirmed case of the virus, a single visitor from China, despite its popularity with Chinese tourists.
A recent study by researchers at Harvard University’s Public Health School suggested that Cambodia, along with Indonesia and Thailand, have fewer confirmed case of the disease than might be expected considering the mass of visitors they host from China, especially from the area most affected by the virus.
There had been much uncertainty about the Westerdam’s destination. Holland America Line announced on Monday that the ship would dock in eastern Thailand, but on Tuesday the Thai government barred it, while saying it was seeking a way to provide assistance such as fuel and food.
Stephen Hansen, another passenger, said in an emailed audio message that the ship had been escorted by a Thai Navy vessel before it was turned around to head to Cambodia.
“Apparently, Cambodia has approved our docking, pending a health inspection before we dock,” he said. “All of this is dependent on what happens tomorrow morning in Cambodia. But our fingers are crossed for success there.”