Last passengers leave cruise ship in Cambodia after virus clearance

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (Reuters) – Remaining passengers who were stuck onboard a cruise ship docked in Cambodia for almost a week left the vessel on Wednesday after they tested negative for the coronavirus, a government official said.

The last passengers from the MS Westerdam, a cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone aboard might have the coronavirus, travel in a bus towards Phnom Penh, after being cleared to disembark, in Sihanoukville, Cambodia February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Clare Baldwin

MS Westerdam, operated by Carnival Corp’s Holland America Line, arrived in the port of Sihanoukville on Feb. 13 having been turned away at five other ports after leaving Hong Kong, which has reported more than 60 cases of the virus and two deaths.

The ship came under renewed scrutiny amid Cambodia’s quick clearance for passengers to fly home, which was criticized after one American woman who had been on the cruise ship tested positive for the virus over the weekend after a special flight chartered by the cruise reached Malaysia.

On Wednesday, a series of cheers went up from people lining the lower deck of the cruise ship and there were several loud blasts of the ship’s horn as passengers began disembarking, 18 days after the ship first left Hong Kong.

“The last 233 passengers on MS Westerdam are disembarked and will continue to Phnom Penh by buses,” said Kheang Phearum, spokesman for Preah Sihanouk province, where Sihanoukville is located.

Holland America Line confirmed in a statement the last passengers had been given health clearances to leave the ship and make their way home.

“The company is working to finalize arrangements for everyone,” the statement said, adding that those who traveled home previously will be contacted by their local health department.

Upon leaving the vessel, passengers received traditional checkered Cambodian scarves as souvenirs.

The passengers will spend a night in capital Phnom Penh and then fly home, said Sun Chan Thol, Cambodia’s minister of public transport.

“Tomorrow, they will leave for their home countries,” said Sun Chan Thol.

Holland America said the ship would remain at dock in Sihanoukville while hundreds of crew members were being tested.

The vessel spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand even though the cruise operator insisted there were no coronavirus cases aboard.

Some 1,455 passengers and 802 crew boarded the cruise ship when it set sail on Feb. 1 from Hong Kong.

Reporting by Clare Baldwin; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Sam Holmes

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