The government is making headway on plans to create the Techo Westerdam Park in Preah Sihanouk province, as a new attraction for national and international tourists who may be looking for some time away from the beaches and islands, a decision issued by the National Committee for Clean City Evaluation (“NCCCE”) on February 15 affirms.

The site will commemorate Cambodia’s move to allow the international cruise ship MS Westerdam, which had 1,455 passengers and 802 crew from 41 nations, to dock at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on February 13, 2020, after it had been turned away by five countries and territories over coronavirus fears, according to Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesman Kheang Phearum.

The decision of the NCCCE, under the Ministry of Tourism, also establishes a 10-member technical working group with committee deputy secretary-general and ministry director for Tourism Accommodation and Food Kim Sereyroth as chairman, and ministry director for Clean City Evaluation Lun Bunthoeun as deputy chairman.

Article 2 of the decision tasks the team with identifying a suitable location for the park, finding partners for the development of the project as well as financial and technical support, and preparing progress reports for the NCCCE chairman to review.

The Post could not reach tourism ministry spokesmen Top Sopheak, Chuk Chumno, or Aing Sovannroath for comment on February 22.

Provincial administration spokesman Phearum told The Post on February 22 that the tourism ministry had yet to determine the size or a suitable location for the park.

He believes the site will draw in visitors from all over, deriving its significance from the universal resonance of the MS Westerdam’s docking at the Preah Sihanouk port, where “Cambodia saved the lives of many people, of all races”.

“We cleared the way for the tourists on board to return home safely, and no one was found to be infected with the Covid-19 virus at the time. The act was a loving humanitarian gesture, in the name of our shared humanity, on behalf of [Prime Minister Hun Sen],” the spokesman said.

Describing Cambodia as a small country with a wide heart, Phearum said the deed was not solely about “sharing the love”, but also about rescuing thousands of stranded people, which he said would be reflected in the park, as a reminder of the historical event that captivated the entire world.

Just over two years ago, the Westerdam left Hong Kong on February 1 on a 14-day cruise around the island of Taiwan and Japan, but was turned away over the following days by both jurisdictions, along with Thailand, Guam and the Philippines over concerns that passengers could carry the Covid-19 virus.

Twelve days later on February 13, the Cambodian prime minister not only made the world-shaking decision to allow the cruise ship to dock, but took a helicopter the following day to welcome passengers as they disembarked, shaking their hands and personally distributing bouquets of roses as they stepped off the vessel, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

At the time, then-US President Donald Trump, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili all thanked Cambodia for the humanitarian gesture.