The cruise ship Westerdam docked in Cambodia Thursday morning, a relief to the 2,000 passengers and crew on board after the ship was denied entry to five ports over fears of a potential outbreak of COVID-19.
Global panic over the novel coronavirus prompted Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and the U.S. territory of Guam, to deny the Westerdam entry despite no one on board being diagnosed with the deadly illness.
Holland American Line, the cruise operator, said it will charter flights to transfer passengers from the coastal city of Sihanoukvilleover to Phnom Penh over the next few days. From there, the passengers will be flown home at the cruise line’s expense.
The Westerdam was the latest cruise ship to be caught in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak. The virus-stricken ship Diamond Princess has been under quarantine at the Yokohama Bay in Japan since Feb. 5 and infections aboard continue to rise. At least 218 of the 3,700 passengers and crew are confirmed infected with COVID-19. That makes the ship by far the biggest cluster of the coronavirus outside mainland China.
Last week, passengers on the World Dream cruise ship in Hong Kong were held for four days after the company learned that three passengers who had sailed on the vessel earlier were confirmed to have the virus. All passengers were finally allowed to disembark on Monday after all crew tested negative for the virus.
Globally, more than 60,000 people have been infected with the virus, and more than 1,300 have died as a result. A vast majority of cases have been in mainland China.
On Feb. 6, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the Westerdam, en route from Hong Kong, would not be allowed to dock, according to the AP.
Country after country has since rejected the Westerdam’s requests to dock for fear that passengers carry COVID-19, despite repeated statements from cruise line officials that there are no known cases of the virus on board and the ship is not under quarantine.
The ship was on a 14-day cruise that departed from Hong Kong on Feb. 1.
Passenger Jackie Roos, 61, told TIME on Wednesday that she planned the trip with her partner, her daughter and two other families a year ago to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday.
“We’re disappointed that we haven’t been able to visit the countries we expected to,” the New Zealander told TIME. “We chose this cruise because of the itinerary.”
But she said she had no regrets coming on the cruise, and was keeping herself busy with free gym classes, live shows and spa sessions. The cruise was also offering free wi-fi and complimentary champagne.
“We really can’t complain, we are after all on a luxury cruise ship,” she said.
Sally Walmsley, who was on the cruise with her husband and three kids, said on Wednesday that her family has had to cancel most of their travel plans because of the outbreak. But the extended stay on the ship provided quality family time, and she was grateful that the staff on board were extremely accommodating and tended to their every need.
“We came on this trip to make memories, and no one can argue that that’s not what we are doing,” the 42-year-old from New Zealand said.
Holland America Line promised that all passengers aboard the Westerdam would be 100% refunded and will receive 100% future cruise credit. The cruise line was expected to launch a new cruise from Yokohama on Feb. 15, but it has canceled that trip.
The cruise line also announced that guests who traveled from or through mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau or had contact with a suspected case of COVID-19 at least 14 days prior to the scheduled departure would not be permitted on board any Holland America Line cruises.
“For all of our cruises, we continue to monitor the evolving situation with respect to the coronavirus that originated in mainland China, and our medical experts are coordinating closely with global health authorities to implement enhanced screening, prevention and control measures for our ships globally,” the company announced on Feb. 6.
After the ship was rejected from docking in Thailand, many passengers shared their experiences on social media, and some maintained a more optimistic outlook. One passenger, Christina Kerby, took up towel folding and shared jokes about her experience on Twitter.
Others thanked the crew working on the Westerdam.
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