A contaminated cruise ship docked off Cambodia on Thursday, raising fresh worries about a deadly virus that has surged in Southeast Asia and beyond, and prompting further analysis of the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Twenty-one crew members and passengers have died since the Dec. 16 storm that brought the ship about 17 miles from land in a tropical storm off Vietnam. The MSC Seaside has been docked at Phnom Penh's central pier and has been disinfected before passengers were welcomed, with varying degrees of secrecy.
"Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is a public health issue, and we are following international guidelines as we move through our port's conditions. The ship will remain under quarantine until further notice," a spokeswoman for MSC Cruises, Jaspreet Singh, said in a statement.
Passengers arrived to little fanfare as inspectors and quarantine workers awaited them, although the captain and crew wore face masks. A medical team had already removed items from the vessel, a spacious ocean liner with mainly Mexican-crewed passengers, such as a theater curtain, cellphones and wardrobe.
Malaysia said 12 passengers arrived by bus from the ship, with three disembarking by emergency exit after first encountering authorities and another two disembarking from the ship.
Some 900 passengers and 996 crew members are on board, the cruise line said. About 1,600 of the passengers are Cambodian, it said.
The wait to board also had its own drama. "Two girls were waiting patiently to get on board," said ferry conductor Shon Sooy, who was on the outside of the vessel wearing a hat to keep out the rain and has been getting instructions from his young daughter on how the ship is supposed to be cleaned. "They were tense and seemed to be really worried when they didn't make any breakthroughs at first."
"The boat had shown us few passengers by the time they got off the boat," he said. "The Cambodian security guards were carrying big plastic bags and briefcases."
The dead are believed to be mostly Filipino, with one from Malaysia and one from Singapore. Two Cambodian nationals were in critical condition.
Cambodia is grappling with a health emergency from the contagion, with the World Health Organization warning that it could spread rapidly.
Quarantine and medical samples were taken from all passengers and crew members in Singapore on Wednesday to try to assess if they were infected. Singapore said results of the samples may not be known for up to two weeks.
Countries in South and Southeast Asia in recent weeks have been trying to contain the disease's spread, and to reinforce public awareness. Singapore's health minister wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that it was "very unlikely" that the illness had spread on the ship. Singapore's health ministry said tests confirmed a 20-year-old Malaysian man infected on board, but didn't say when he first started feeling ill.
Information for this article was contributed by Pham Quy Tieu of The Associated Press.
A Section on 02/17/2020