Cambodia is preparing to build a monument to the historic docking of the MS Westerdam at the port where the cruise liner berthed in February 2020.

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, six nations refused entry to the vessel, which had been at sea for several months. Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped in at the time and granted permission for the ship to dock at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port (PAS), greeting the distraught passengers in person.

“The act was lauded around the world as a humanitarian action, and cemented the Kingdom’s reputation as a ‘small country with a big heart’,” said Lou Kim Chhun, chairman of the PAS’s board of directors.

He claimed that many tourists had wanted to see the exact location where the historic event took place.

Kim Chhun noted that the vessel will return to the port in late December, with more than 3,000 people aboard.

“I’m looking forward to welcoming the Westerdam back to the Kingdom,” he said.

He said that since the government had reopened the country, 10 liners had docked at the port, bringing a total of 3,753 guests from as far afield as Europe and North America.

“Nineteen more vessels are scheduled to visit by year’s end, including the Westerdam,” he said.

“The Sihanoukville Autonomous Port is one of the cogs that keep the national economic machine running. We provide direct employment to more than 1,300 people and our activities support the livelihoods of hundreds of additional Cambodians,” he added.

He noted that the port’s development was in line with the growth of the national economy, although it had been delayed by the global pandemic. The PAS management, he said, work closely with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to monitor economic development.

“In 2024, we will renovate our container port, increasing our container capacity by 35 per cent. In 2026, we will complete dredging operations and reach a water depth of 14.5m, allowing 93 per cent of ships in the region to berth. We expect this to reduce container fees by an average of $200, making us more competitive and attracting more investment,” he explained.

“Two years from then, we expect to reach a depth of 16.5m, meaning almost all European and US vessels will be capable of docking here. In 2029, the port will reach a depth of 17.5m, making it accessible to any vessel on the planet. Both of these stages of development will see further increases in competitiveness,” he said.