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Cruise stranded by virus fears ends with roses in Cambodia

Cheers as cruise ordeal ends

Hundreds of cruise ship passengers long stranded at sea by virus fears cheered as they finally disembarked Friday and were welcomed to Cambodia by the nation's authoritarian leader who handed them flowers.

Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to let the Westerdam dock at the port of Sihanoukville on Thursday after Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam had barred the ship earlier.

“Today, although Cambodia is a poor country, Cambodia has always joined the international community to solve the problems that the world and our region are facing,” he said as the first passengers disembarked.

“How wonderful it is to be here. Thank you very much to the prime minister. He has a wonderful heart,” said Anna Marie Melon, from Queensland, Australia. “I’m very excited (to be here)," she said as she waved a rose Hun Sen handed to her.

The passengers cheered as they walked toward waiting buses and waved goodbye to other passengers watching from the ship’s deck.

“Your country did a great job. Did a wonderful job. Thank you very much. We appreciate it very much,” Joe Spaziani, 74, from Florida, told reporters. He and many other passengers wore a krama, a traditional Cambodian scarf, around their necks.

“Cambodia alone, even the United States, Guam, did not let us land, but Cambodia did, so that’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful," Spaziani said. "We appreciate it very very much. It’s been a long struggle and we appreciate everyone being here.”

The Westerdam was unwelcome elsewhere even though operator Holland America Line said no cases of the COVID-19 viral illness have been confirmed among its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members. Some 20 passengers had reported stomachaches or fever, but tests for the virus done at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh showed none had the illness.

Hun Sen has said he acted for humanitarian reasons and said at the dock he wanted to allow passengers to return to their home countries.

“If Cambodia did not allow this ship to dock here, where should this ship go?” he said. "I want to inform Cambodians and the world that I coming here even for a short time means this is no time for discrimination and to be scared, but a time for everyone to be in solidarity to solve the problems we are facing now."



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