Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday hit back at critics who say he allowed the Westerdam cruise ship to dock in Sihanoukville for political reasons.
Speaking at an annual gathering of the Ministry of Interior, Hun Sen said he acted to avert a humanitarian catastrophe after several countries denied the Westerdam access to their ports.
“If Cambodia had not accepted the ship, it would have become a humanitarian crisis. If Cambodia had not granted it the right to enter, where would the ship be now? They would have already run out of oil, food and water,” the prime minister said.
He said no passenger onboard the Westerdam had tested positive for Covid-19, except for an 83-year-old American woman who tested positive in Malaysia. However, Hun Sen questioned where the woman became infected.
“The case of the woman in Malaysia is a different story. She was the only passenger that tested positive and now she has recovered and is back in her country. She will say whatever she wants to say about how she became infected.
“We didn’t find anything wrong with her when she was here. So, did she contract the disease in Cambodia or in Malaysia?” Hun Sen asked.
He stressed that the case of the infected passenger had not created tensions with Malaysia. “Some say that there is a diplomatic dispute between Cambodia and Malaysia regarding the case of the 83-year-old American woman.
“I want to emphasise that there is no dispute. We are simply asking for an explanation because we did not find any trace of the disease when she was here, but then she tested positive in Malaysia. Where did she contract the disease?
“It is highly unlikely that she would test positive while her husband and thousands of others at the ship tested negative. But, I reiterate, there is no diplomatic dispute between Cambodia and Malaysia,” Hun Sen stressed.
The prime minister thanked Thailand for confirming that none of the Westerdam passengers was infected upon entering Bangkok after leaving Phnom Penh.
He also thanked Indonesia and Japan for confirming that their citizens on the Westerdam were not infected either.
Ministry of Tourism spokesperson Top Sopheak said on Thursday that 20 to 30 of the passengers were still in Cambodia. He said most of the crew of over 800 people have returned to the ship in Sihanoukville.
“They are already back on the ship, but I don’t know when it will leave Cambodia,” he said.