World Health Organization thanks Cambodia for allowing stranded cruise ship to dock

Frank King

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A cruise ship that has repeatedly been refused permission to dock by several countries over fears about the COVID-19 virus has arrived in Cambodia but passengers still aren't able to disembark.

The ship had been turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand over fears that someone on the cruise could have the new flu-like virus. Thailand and four other nations and territories had turned the ship away because of concerns over the coronavirus.

Holland American Line, the cruise operator, said Cambodian authorities granted permission for passengers to start disembarking on february 14.

The ship has anchored about a mile from shore, Muth said.

Similarly, P&O Cruises' Arcadia liner has removed stops in Shanghai and Hong Kong in March, although it has yet to announce alternative ports.

"We also extend our deepest gratitude to President Trump, Cambodia's Honorable Prime Minister Hun Sen, Canadian Foreign Minister [François-Philippe] Champagne, elected officials across the country and governments around the world for providing support and being effective allies in bringing our guests home", Stein Kruse, Group CEO, Holland America Group and Carnival UK, said in the statement.

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The ship has 650 Americans on board and has finally been allowed to dock in Cambodia today.

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He said only passengers who already had flight tickets arranged by Holland America Line would leave the ship in order to continue their way back home. US Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy tweeted later the same day that he greatly appreciated Cambodia's assistance, as there are US citizens on the ship.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen received the first passengers on the pier, who were presented with flowers and "krama", a traditional Cambodian handkerchief.

A strong supporter of China, he has played down any threat from the new virus and even threatened to kick out reporters or officials seen wearing protective face masks.

"Cruise ships are much less a risk than for example planes for global spread of a virus", said Dr Marc-Alain Widdowson, director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, told Al Jazeera.

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He said Mr Trump, the US State Department and National Security Council had been "instrumental". Later, a helicopter took off for Phnom Penh, carrying fluid samples from passengers for virus tests.

"If no one allows entry, Cambodia does".

In contrast the European Union has partially withdrawn trade benefits to some of Cambodia's industry over the nation's woeful human rights record.

"For all of our cruises, we continue to monitor the evolving situation with respect to the coronavirus that originated in mainland China, and our medical experts are coordinating closely with global health authorities to implement enhanced screening, prevention and control measures for our ships globally", the company announced on February 6.

Overjoyed passengers used their new-found freedom to visit a nearby beach, while some even hugged Hun Sen - who has ruled the country with an iron grip for 35 years.

The ship will stay at the port until next Monday for disembarkation.

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