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Almost 500 passengers of MS Westerdam have headed home

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times Share:
Passengers disembarking the cruise ship on Friday. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Sihanoukville, Preah Sihanouk province:  The State Secretariat for Civil Aviation (SSCA) said yesterday that 494 of MS Westerdam’s 2,257 passengers and crew have left for their home country through Phnom Penh International Airport and a further 145 through Sihanoukville International Airport.

Chea Aun, spokesman for SSCA, said that the remaining passengers and crew are expected to leave in batches in the coming days via Phnom Penh International Airport. It is not yet known when or how the MS Westerdam will set sail, given that crew members are among those who have left the vessel and headed for their respective home countries.

On February 10, all 2,257 passengers and crew members onboard MS Westerdam were temperature-tested and not one person had an elevated temperature,  Holland America Line, owners of the cruise ship, said in a statement yesterday.

It noted that disembarking guests also completed a written health questionnaire and the passports of everyone on board were reviewed to ensure no one had travelled through mainland China over the past 14 days. During the voyage there was no indication of COVID-19 on the ship, it said.

Passengers waiting to board a bus parked on the pier alongside the MS Westerdam. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The US embassy said in a statement yesterday that it was aware of reports from Malaysian health authorities regarding a US citizen who departed Cambodia and has tested positive for COVID-19 in Kuala Lumpur.

“The safety and wellbeing of US citizens is the top priority of the State Department,” it said. “Our Consular Officers are working closely with the Malaysian and Cambodian governments and public health professionals in addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19.”

“Medical and public health experts agree that contact with passengers and crew of the MS Westerdam is considered low risk for exposure to COVID-19,” the statement said yesterday. “Risk is determined by the distance [less than two metres] and duration [more than 15 consecutive minutes] of exposure to a person with confirmed COVID-19 infection. Outdoor or large indoor spaces such as the airport departure hall reduce risk because of greater ventilation.”

MS Westerdam was turned away from Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines due to fears over the spread of COVID-19.  For humanitarian reasons, Cambodia allowed the ship to enter the Kingdom.

It was finally allowed to dock in Sihanoukville on Thursday with 1,455 guests and 802 crew members on board as it was reported to be running low on supplies.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian Health Ministry had requested Malaysian authorities to review specimen results of a US woman who was reportedly tested positive for coronavirus after disembarking the MS Westerdam vessel on Friday.

Noor Hisham Abdullah, the Health Ministry director general, said in a statement that the 83-year-old woman and her 85-year-old husband, also from the United States, were among 145 passengers who flew into Malaysia on Friday after disembarking in Cambodia.

Health Minister Mam Bun Heng yesterday asked his Malaysian counterpart, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, to review the test results on the American woman.

Or Vandine, a Health Ministry spokeswoman, said yesterday that the woman and other tourists on the cruise ship had been thoroughly checked for symptoms of the virus and the Health Ministry had worked with the World Health Organization and the US CDC.

“We are working with officials in Malaysia, Cambodia and the US CDC as is standard,” it said. However, the results of the second test returned as positive, thus confirming that the 83 year old female was infected.

Tests on six other Amsterdam bound passengers, who were denied boarding Saturday, came back negative late yesterday and the Malaysian Health Ministry said that the six are allowed to depart Kuala Lumpur if a second test proved negative as well.

A day after the cruise ship docked in Sihanoukville, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday visited the port to welcome hundreds of passengers and crew who disembarked.

Mr Hun Sen said that no Cambodian had been infected by the virus.

Elderly passengers chilling out after disembarking. KT/Chor Sokunthea

A Canadian national, Ralph Passmore, from Toronto said on Friday that he is very happy and grateful to the Cambodia government for allowing the ship to dock.

“I think it is wonderful that somebody had the common sense to realise that we didn’t have a problem on the ship and is allowing us to get home,” he said. “I take this opportunity to say to you that common sense and humanity prevailed in Cambodia and took us in when others had just turned us away with the paranoia of coronavirus, but you have treated us well.”

US President Donald Trump posted on his Twitter feed on Saturday, thanking Cambodia for allowing the MS Westerdam to dock in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville Port.

“Thank you to the beautiful country of Cambodia for accepting the @CarnivalCruise ship Westerdam into your port. The United States will remember your courtesy,” he said.

Meanwhile the Guam government said in a statement that it could not allow the Westerdam to dock because of limited resources to screen the passengers for the virus.

“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,” said Governor Leon Guerrero.

The statement also said that based on information from counterparts at the Centers for Disease Control and the US State Department, the vessel has enough food and fuel to sustain itself.


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