Passengers finally begin leaving cruise ship in Cambodia

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia — Hundreds of cruise ship passengers long stranded at sea by virus fears cheered as they finally disembarked Friday and were welcomed to Cambodia by the nation's authoritarian leader, who handed them flowers.

Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to let the Westerdam dock at the port of Sihanoukville on Thursday after Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines had barred the ship earlier.

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"How wonderful it is to be here. Thank you very much to the prime minister. He has a wonderful heart," said Anna Marie Melon, from Queensland, Australia. "I’m very excited (to be here)," she said as she waved the rose Hun Sen handed to her.

The passengers cheered as they walked toward buses to take them to the airport, and waved goodbye to other passengers watching from the ship’s deck.

The Westerdam was unwelcome elsewhere even though operator Holland America Line said no cases of the COVID-19 viral illness have been confirmed among its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members. About 500 passengers were leaving the ship Friday morning.

The illness has sickened tens of thousands of people in China, and a few hundred elsewhere, including on another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which made stops in Hong Kong and other ports before arriving in Japan last week.

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