Cambodia continues to earn praise for its humanitarian act of allowing the MS Westerdam cruise ship with more than 2,200 passengers and crew on board to dock at the Preah Sihanouk port. The praise this time comes from none other than US President Donald Trump.
“Thank you to the beautiful country of Cambodia for accepting the @CarnivalCruise ship Westerdam into your port. The US will remember your courtesy!” Trump tweeted on Saturday.
And in its tweet on Friday, the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said: “The MS Westerdam has docked in Cambodia with [more than] 2,000 tourists and crew on board. Once again, tourism has shown its unique ability to bring people together at times of adversity, celebrating our common humanity regardless of race, gender or creed.”
In a separate letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili expressed his most heartfelt appreciation for the government’s humanitarian response to the plight of MS Westerdam’s passengers and crew.
“We are very proud of Cambodia’s demonstration of such highly acclaimed international solidarity which will hopefully encourage other nations to emulate and offer much-needed support where and when required.
“I reiterated UNTWO’s great appreciation for Cambodia’s bravery and warm expression of brotherly love against the odds to those 2,000 passengers [and crew] marooned on the seas,” he said.
On Thursday, the MS Westerdam belonging to Holland America Line docked at Preah Sihanouk port with 1,455 passengers and 802 crew onboard after its docking rights were withdrawn by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand.
Cambodian authorities said more than 1,200 passengers had disembarked. Of the number, 1,254 had departed Cambodia.
The ship was on a 14-day Taiwan-Japan cruise and departed Hong Kong on February 1.
According to the passenger list, the 1,455 tourists were nationals of 41 countries, including 651 Americans, Canadians (271), British (127) and Dutch (91).
Of the number, 687 passengers were to continue sailing from February 1 and arrive in Yokohama, Japan, on February 15 for the next embarkation, Holland America Line said.
But fear of contracting the deadly Covid-19 disease prompted the countries to deny the ship from docking. It then attempted to dock at ports in other countries but was again rejected.
While greeting the passengers and crew at the port in Preah Sihanouk province on Friday, Hun Sen said people should not be discriminated against merely because of fear of Covid-19.
“Some countries or people may ask whether Cambodia would allow the ship to dock if there were coronavirus-infected people present on the ship.
“I can reply with a clear message that if there were people contracting the disease on the ship, I would still allow it to dock as soon as it could,” he said.
Hun Sen said this is not the time to panic or discriminate, but to enforce solidarity in addressing global challenges.
In a phone call with Cambodian Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng on Thursday, World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus praised Cambodia for its solidarity and discussed the provision of necessary support to the passengers.
Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall spokesman Kheang Phearum on Sunday said 1,254 people had disembarked from the MS Westerdam on Friday and Saturday, though he did not have the figure for those who had departed Cambodia.
But citing information from various airlines, Secretariat of Civil Aviation spokesman Sin Chan Sereyvutha said on Sunday that 264 people left the Kingdom on Friday, while another 928 departed on Saturday.
While the remaining MS Westerdam passengers are waiting to disembark and leave for their home country, one person who had left the Kingdom has reportedly been tested positive for Covid-19 while transiting in Malaysia.
Malaysian health authorities identified her as an 83-year-old American.
Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng on Sunday wrote to Malaysian Minister of Health Dr Haji Dzulkefly Ahmad seeking verification.
“I would like to kindly request Your Excellency to double-check the test result for this suspected positive case in order to confirm the accuracy,” he said in his letter obtained by The Post on Sunday.
The ministry also issued a press release requesting that Malaysia thoroughly verify the result it had publicised. It said Cambodian health authorities had thoroughly conducted health checks on the remaining MS Westerdam passengers who were to depart on Sunday.
It stressed that the tests conducted in Cambodia followed standard practices and international health regulations set by the WHO and that it had also consulted the WHO, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC), Pasteur Institute in Cambodia (IPC) and others to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Cambodia.
US Embassy in Phnom Penh spokesperson Emily Zeeberg on Sunday said the embassy was aware of the case of the American passenger who has been tested positive for Covid-19 in Malaysia.
She said US consular officers were working with the Malaysian and Cambodian governments and public health professional in addressing the challenges posed by the disease.
“In Cambodia, all cruise passengers were screened for fever prior to disembarkation from the ship, assisted by [US] Embassy Phnom Penh and Cambodian health authorities. In addition, passengers who reported being ill at any point during the cruise were tested for Covid-19.
“Approximately 20 people were tested, all negative, at a lab trusted by USCDC,” Zeeberg said, adding that passengers who flew to Kuala Lumpur had their temperature taken upon arrival as well.
Abraham Youssef, who had departed the Kingdom, said some of his fellow passengers had lost contact while at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He said while some could eventually depart the airport leaving luggage behind, others either had their flights delayed or rejected.
Another passenger, Christina Kerby, told The Post she was still at a hotel in Phnom Penh on Sunday while others at the hotel were being tested for Covid-19.