Cambodia thanked for welcoming stranded cruise passengers

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Phnom Penh: Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Zurab Pololikashvili has sent a letter of appreciation to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for authorizing the docking of Westerdam Cruise Ship at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port.

After being stranded at sea for two weeks, the MS Westerdam was allowed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to dock humanitarian reasons.

The first passengers disembarked on Friday and more passengers were allowed to leave the ship on Saturday.

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“I would like to express my most heartfelt appreciation and that of UNWTO as a whole to the Royal Government of Cambodia for its remarkable humanitarian response to the plight of MS Westerdam cruise ship which it welcomed with open arms and allowed to dock in Sihanoukville despite the coronavirus scare,” Pololikashvili wrote in his letter, the Cambodian news agency AKP reported.

“As we are aware, the coronavirus outbreak is currently a source of concern to the international community and efforts to contain its spread and to produce a cure are being spearheaded by the World Health Organisation. The Government of China is equally taking vigorous measures along the same lines and is collaborating closely with WHO and other relevant stakeholders to prevent a world pandemic.”

UNWTO is also monitoring the evolution of the coronavirus through its regular meetings with WHO and we are happy to learn that the rate at which the virus is infecting people has slackened, he added.

“We are very proud of Cambodia’s demonstration of such highly acclaimed international solidarity which will hopefully encourage other nations to emulate and to offer the much-needed support where and when required,” Pololikashvili wrote.

“I reiterate UNWTO’s great appreciation for Cambodia’s bravery and warm expression of brotherly love against the odds to those 2,000 passengers marooned on the seas.”

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Hun Sen had said the passengers were free to go to the beach, go sightseeing in the coastal city or even visit the famous centuries-old Angkor Wat temple complex in the country’s northwest.

After it was refused entry by five countries worried worried its passengers could be carrying the coronavirus despite it having no known cases, Westerdam cruise ship carrying more than 2,200 multinational passengers and crewmembers finally docked at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on Feb. 13.

All passengers and crewmembers were provided medical check-up and none is COVID-19 positive. They were accorded hospitality by the premier, senior officials, ambassadors and others, the agency said.

Cambodian authorities said they were committed to ensure proper facilitation for their transit to their flights home.

U.S. President Donald Trump has thanked Cambodia for taking in the castaway cruise ship.

“Thank you to the beautiful country of Cambodia for accepting the @CarnivalCruise ship Westerdam into your port. The United States will remember your courtesy,” Trump said in a post on Twitter late on Friday.

U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy was grateful.

“The one thing I can say is we’re very, very grateful that Cambodia has opened literally its ports and its doors to people in need,” he told a dockside news conference.

“We think this sends a strong message. We all have to help each other. And the passengers here are just average citizens from many different countries trying to make their way home. And this model is good and we hope that other countries can be equally as helpful to people in need.”

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