A luxury liner that has spent two weeks at sea after five countries turned it away amid coronavirus fears has finally found a place to dock.
A luxury liner that has spent two weeks at sea after five countries turned it away amid coronavirus fears has finally found a place to dock.

Cruise ship virus hell finally ends

A cruise ship which has spent a hellish two weeks at sea after five countries turned it away because of coronavirus fears has arrived in Cambodia.

The MS Westerdam arrived at an anchoring point in the Cambodian town of Sihanoukville just after 7am local time.

The ship is carrying 1,455 passengers - including 79 Australians - and 802 crew.

Among those on board are 650 from the US, 127 from Canada, 91 from The Netherlands, 57 from Germany and 30 from China and Hong Kong.

Passengers posted video of guests and crew celebrating as the ship prepared to dock.

"The cruise director and the hotel director were in tears thanking the @HALcruises staff and crew," passenger Christina Kerby tweeted. "Truly amazing to feel the energy in the room."

The Westerdam was unwelcome elsewhere even though operator Holland America Line said no cases of the COVID-19 viral illness have been confirmed on board.

The ship will remain anchored one km from the main Sihanoukville port while a team of medics carries out health checks and officials determine the disembarkation process, Governor. Kouch Chamrouen told The Associated Press.

Thailand refused to allow the Westerdam to dock this week after it had already been turned away by the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Guam.

The Westerdam's cruise will end in Sihanoukville and passengers can take charter flights to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, to return home, Holland America said.

"All approvals have been received and we are extremely grateful to the Cambodian authorities for their support," the statement on the cruise operator's website said.

Adelaide couple David Holst and wife Judy aboard the Holland America's Westerdam cruise ship. Picture: David Holst
Adelaide couple David Holst and wife Judy aboard the Holland America's Westerdam cruise ship. Picture: David Holst

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.

COVID-19 has sickened tens of thousands of people in China since December, and more than 170 cases have been confirmed on another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which made stops in Hong Kong and other ports before arriving in Japan last week.

World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier he was pleased Cambodia had agreed to accept the Westerdam and described it as an example of the international solidarity advocated by the UN health agency.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is a strong ally of China and has played down any threat from the new coronavirus in his country. He had declined to ban direct flights to China, a step taken by other governments and airlines.

Cambodia has confirmed just one case of the virus, in a Chinese visitor.

A passenger on the Westerdam expressed relief at the news the ship would be docking in Cambodia.

"Homeward bound! The (hash) Westerdam is headed for Cambodia," she tweeted.

"We're 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."

Track videos posted online by Marine Traffic and Bloomberg show the vessel's path as it sailed around the South China Sea in limbo.

 

Some guests had been sharing their despair on social media as country after country turned them away while others appeared to be enjoying the extended holiday

 

 

Shortly after docking at Sihanoukville passenger Lydia Miller tweeted Cambodian health inspectors were about to board the vessel.

 

 

On Monday their hopes were raised and then cruelly dashed after Thailand first agreed to allow the ship to dock before changing its mind the following day.

"To have that snatched away at the last minute with no other solution at hand was very upsetting," Canadian Stephen Hansen, who is travelling with his wife Carolle Sauro, told Bloomberg.

 

 

The Westerdam departed from Hong Kong on February 1 for a 14-day cruise to Taiwan and Japan with 1,455 guests and 802 crew members on board, Holland America Line said.

Beijing's National Health Commission today confirmed the virus had infected more than 60,000 people and killed more than 1300 since it was first reported on December 8.

It is this soaring number of cases that has stoked fear among governments, even though Holland America Line said last week that "the ship is not in quarantine and there are no known cases of coronavirus on board".

More to come


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