By Clare Baldwin
SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia, 15 Feb (Reuters) – After nearly two weeks chased to find a port to take them, passengers on the cruise ship MS Westerdam spoke of an anything but frightening ordeal.
"Everyone says" poor you ". But there was no poor you. We had free internet and free wine. We had three-course meals. There were so many choice, "said Zahra Jennings, a retired British nurse.
How was it? "Lovely," she says.
The 1,544 passengers and 802 crewmembers never expected a stopover in Hong Kong to metastasize in complete fear that some of the ship's passengers were carrying the new coronavirus that appeared at Wuhan, China, at the end of last year and killed more than 1,500 people.
Refused by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand, it was Cambodia that finally let the lost ship dock – and it was discovered that none of the passengers were infected.
The only complaint on board? "They ran out of hash browns a few days ago and tomato sauce," said Robert Sayers, a 60-year-old employee of a New Zealand chemical company. "But that was it. It was very good, really."
Cruise ships across Asia have been very concerned about spreading the virus since it was found on board the Diamond Princess which is now at anchor in Yokohama and where 218 passengers have been diagnosed with the virus.
On Friday, Vietnam turned back two ships.
It was Valentine's Day when the first passengers disembarked from Westerdam. Prime Minister Hun Sen flew out of the capital, shaking hands with passengers and handing out roses. Government officials draped "Welcome to Cambodia" banners on the buses. All passengers received free visas.
Hun Sen, an authoritarian leader convicted by Western countries for human rights violations said: "Our current disease in the world is fear and discrimination," he said. "If Cambodia did not allow this ship to dock, where should those 2,000 passengers go?"
Holland America sent letters to all passengers saying it would reimburse the cost of the cruise, give them another 14-day free cruise, and charter return flights. The company, she said, would do its best to match the flight class it had originally reserved.
The cruise was scheduled to end Saturday in Shanghai. In Shanghai, it was 14 degrees Celsius, overcast and rainy. In Sihanoukville, it was 27 ° C and the weather was fine.
Holland America organized free coaches to a nearby beach for stranded passengers, in front of the villa where Hun Sen stays in Sihanoukville and surrounded by Chinese casinos.
"It was my best cruise ever," said Pierre Ashby, a retired Canadian aerospace engineer. "Usually you buy a cruise and you know exactly what you're going to get. It was an adventure."
His wife was seated next to him in a yellow swimsuit with two red roses. Barefoot in the sand, he smiled and headed for the sea.
"Take your time." (Reporting by Clare Baldwin Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul and James Pearson Editing by Matthew Tostevin.)