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Westerdam finally arrives in Cambodia after 5 ports refused

Prime Minister Hun Sen says decision is "humanitarian"

The Westerdam cruise ship anchored near Sihanoukville port in Preah Sihanouk province, Cambodia, on Feb. 13. It had been denied permission to dock at five ports before Cambodia agreed to accept it.    © EPA/ Jiji

PHNOM PENH -- The Westerdam cruise ship arrived on Thursday morning at Cambodia's coastal city of Sihanoukville, ending days in limbo due to fears over the novel coronavirus.

The ship, carrying 1,455 passengers, had been turned away by several countries due to fears about COVID-19, despite no passengers on board having been diagnosed with the virus.

The Westerdam's operator Holland America said in a statement on Wednesday before reaching the port, "We will arrive at 7 a.m. local time on Thursday, Feb. 13 and will remain in port for several days for disembarkation.

"Guests will be able to go ashore. All approvals have been received and we are extremely grateful to the Cambodian authorities for their support."

The company said guests would be transferred by chartered flights to the country's capital of Phnom Penh and travel on home from there.

Cambodian authorities will conduct onboard health checks and provide visa-free services to passengers, an unnamed senior government official told local state-aligned outlet Fresh News. He said a docking permit was granted after the ship's management assured the government no passengers or crew had COVID-19.

Speaking to Fresh News, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the country had made a "humanitarian" decision to allow the ship to dock amid the "emergency." He said he hoped the decision would also help "eliminate the fear" surrounding the coronavirus.

"The real disease is fear, it's not coronavirus," he said.

"Cambodia wants to show that Cambodia doesn't only cooperate with China but with all other nations because this issue has become a global challenge," Hun Sen also said, adding that "humanitarian work has no borders."

Cambodia's decision came on the same day that the European Union, the Southeast Asian nation's biggest trading partner, suspended some trade privileges under a program that lowers tariffs.

Holland America Line said it "will arrange and pay for all flights home, in addition to the full cruise refund and 100% future cruise credit already communicated," it added.

Cambodia has one confirmed case of the virus. The Chinese man, who flew to Sihanoukville from the outbreak's epicenter in Wuhan on Jan. 23, was discharged from hospital on Monday after recovering.

Holland America said a cruise scheduled to leave from Yokohama on Saturday had been canceled and future voyage plans were still being finalized.

"No cancellations for cruises with departure dates beyond Feb. 15 have been announced at this time. However, we are assessing the impact of current port restrictions in Asia on cruises departing Feb. 29 or later. We will communicate details as they become finalized in the next few days."

The Westerdam, which also has 802 crew members on board, was on a 14-day cruise that departed Hong Kong on Feb. 1 and was meant to finish at Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Saturday.

It was prohibited from docking in Japan and also denied entry by Taiwan, the Philippines, Guam and Thailand.

Thailand initially granted the ship permission but then backtracked amid concerns over the coronavirus, which has infected more than people 45,000 people, predominantly in China.

Several tourists on board have been tweeting their experiences. One, Christina Kerby, wrote passengers were "elated" upon being told they were going to Cambodia.

"Homeward bound! The #Westerdam is headed for Cambodia. 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," she wrote.

In their statement, Holland America hit out at "erroneous reports" that cases had been detected on the ship.

"All guests on board are healthy," it said. "There are no known or suspected cases of coronavirus on board, nor have there ever been."

However, it said it had implemented "enhanced screening, prevention and control procedures" and was liaising with international health authorities.

Holland America is a unit of U.S.-based Carnival, the group that also operates the quarantined Diamond Princess liner docked at Yokohama.

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