SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia -- The cruise ship that was allowed to dock in Cambodia after being turned away at five other ports by authorities fearful of the spread of the deadly new virus from China disembarked passengers for a second day on Saturday so they can fly home.
After being stranded at sea for two weeks, the MS Westerdam was allowed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to dock for what he said were humanitarian reasons.
The Cambodian leader's decision won praise from President Donald Trump, who tweeted: “Thank you to the beautiful country of Cambodia for accepting the @CarnivalCruise ship Westerdam into your port. The United States will remember your courtesy!”
The first batch of hundreds of passengers who disembarked Friday saw Hun Sen arrive by helicopter and then personally hand them flowers as they made their way to land.
Many were taken to the airport in the port of Sihanoukville from which they were flown to the capital, Phnom Penh, to make onward connections to home.
The ship's earlier appeals to land in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam had been rejected.
"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," U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy said Saturday at a dockside news conference.
“We think this sends a strong message,” said the envoy. “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.”
According to Murphy, of the 1,455 passengers, more than 600 are American citizens.
British passenger John Stanley said that in addition to the Americans, there had been about 150 people aboard from the U.K., along with other travelers from Australia, Canada, France the Netherlands and Germany. The European Union Delegation to Cambodia said there were 260 EU citizens from 20 different EU members states aboard.
“They're from all over the world. It's a logistical nightmare to get us out of out of your country,” Stanley told said, referring to arrangements to get all of them home.
All the passengers were expected to have been sent on their way by Sunday.
Those passengers who had not already left Sihanoukville were looking for ways to occupy themselves. 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.
"We're stuck on this ship for now," Lydia Miller from Washington State said in a text message. “Hoping to go to town for coconut water and a massage before we leave.”
Some other cruise ships in the Asia Pacific region remain in limbo, barred from some ports and allowed into others. Two cruise ships that were set to disembark passengers in Vietnam on Friday were not allowed to do so,
Peck reported from Bangkok.