Hun Sen Greets Passengers of the MS Westerdam on Cambodia’s Shore 

Prime Minister Hun Sen Friday morning welcomes a passenger off the MS Westerdam cruise ship in Sihanoukville. Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP
  • Torn Chanritheara
  • February 14, 2020 7:09 AM

After days of uncertainty, they are finally allowed on land    

PHNOM PENH –Prime Minister Hun Sen Friday personally welcomed passengers off the Westerdam cruise ship docked in Sihanoukville sea port, telling them that he would not have let them die at sea out of fear. 

Because it is fear, and not the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which is the main issue and problem, he said. 

The cruise ship with 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members on board arrived in Cambodia on Feb. 13 after receiving permission from the government to dock in Sihanoukville port. 

This came after the ship’s request to do so had been turned down five times out of fear that some passengers might have been infected with the coronavirus, which has spread from China to several countries. The authorities in Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand had refused to have the ship dock even though the World Health Organization and the Holland America Line, which operates the ship, had confirmed that no passenger had been infected.  

Laboratory results conducted Thursday on 20 passengers who were reportedly unwell have proved negative for the coronavirus, the Ministry of Health announced Thursday night. 

However, even if a passenger had been infected, Hun Sen said he would have allowed the ship to dock as soon as possible. As he told reporters at the Sihanoukville port Friday morning, he would not have left an infected person die on the ship, forcing the captain to decide whether to keep the person’s body on board or throw it at sea out of concern for the other people on board.  

“I want to send a message to Cambodians and to the world that it is not the time for fear or discrimination,” he said. “It’s a time to be united to deal with any challenges coming up.” 

Hun Sen then appealed to people in the country to try to understand the government’s decision to let this ship dock in Sihanoukville and not to fear those passengers. 

“If I’m in danger of being infected by the virus, it is still worth the sacrifice as I did it for humanity,” he said, adding that Cambodia’s decision regarding this ship was also a matter of respecting human rights. “Why talk about human rights if the right to live is not respected,” he added. 

The first group of passengers to disembark were taken to Preah Sihanouk International Airport. They flew to Phnom Penh International Airport where they were to leave for their next destination. Hun Sen handed some of them flowers as they got off the ship. 

As for the other passengers, the prime minister invited them to visit Sihanoukville or maybe go to Siem Reap City and the Angkor Archeological Park, adding that the authorities would be happy to assist them with their travel arrangements. 

Hun Sen also thanked the U.S. Embassy for alerting the authorities, and especially Senior Minister Sun Chanthol who is minister of Public works and Transportation, regarding the ship having been denied entry by some countries. He said that he had told Chanthol to welcome the ship and make arrangements as soon as possible for the ship to dock. 

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