Cruise ship avoided like the plague

Top News | Michael Shum 12 Feb 2020

The fate of Holland America's cruise ship, carrying nearly 2,260 passengers and crew - including 27 Hongkongers - remains in limbo after multiple countries have barred its entry, the latest being Thailand, amid the coronavirus scare.

Thailand's health minister said yesterday that the MS Westerdam cruise liner was turned away despite no confirmed Wuhan virus cases on board.

The Netherlands-flagged vessel, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp, had said passengers would disembark in Bangkok tomorrow and that there was no reason to believe anybody on board had the virus.

But Thai public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said: "I have issued orders. Permission to dock refused."

Deputy transport minister Atirat Ratanasate said Bangkok will "gladly help" to provide fuel, medicine and food for the liner.

The Westerdam had already been turned away by several countries, including Japan and the Philippines.

Media reports said the ship has 1,455 passengers and 802 crew on board, including passengers from Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland.

The ship has already introduced extra health-screening measures, including temperature checks and cleaning to defend against the virus, Holland America said.

Some passengers said they had not been told that the ship would be unable to dock in Thailand.

"We now do not know what is going to happen," passenger Stephen Hansen said. "[We] thought it was all finalized. Everyone has rebooked flights yet again! Now we are back in limbo."

American tourist Angela Jones said passengers had been getting regular temperature checks but were becoming frustrated with the uncertainty of the situation.

"I wish someone would allow us to dock and wait it out to prove no one was infected," Jones said.

The Westerdam set sail on January 16 from Singapore for a one-month Asia tour. It picked up 600 passengers from Hong Kong on February 1 and managed to dock one night at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on February 5 and has since been barred by several countries.

Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, with 3,700 passengers and crew on board, remains quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama.

Tokyo is considering allowing elderly passengers and those with chronic diseases to leave the vessel before the end of the isolation period next Wednesday, as they may be affected by cabin fever, sources said.

Figures show that 80 percent of the 2,600 passengers on board are aged 60 or above, while 215 are over 80 and 11 are over 90 years old.

Sixty-five passengers were confirmed to have contracted the virus, taking the total number of cases to 135, including three Hongkongers.

A passenger on the ship, surnamed Miao, called on the SAR government to arrange a chartered flight to bring passengers back to the city.

"The number of confirmed cases on board is surging, and we have no clue about the source of the virus. Therefore we are worried about our safety, being isolated on the ship," she said.

Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan criticized the government for doing nothing to help Hongkongers overseas while other countries were repatriating their citizens.

Wong said she was in touch with the Immigration Department asking for a chartered flight. It said it had relayed the request to the Security Bureau.

Lawmaker Vincent Cheng Wing-shun from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong echoed Wong's call that Hongkongers be evacuated from the cruise.

Meanwhile, Wing On Travel said it will now fully refund cancellations for the World Dream cruise. Customers earlier complained about the agency's refusal to provide a refund or exchange their trip.

michael.shum@singtaonewscorp.com

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