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US cruise ship blocked over virus fears to dock in Cambodia

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Sihanoukville (Cambodia) (AFP)

A US cruise ship blocked from several Asian ports over concerns that a passenger could have been infected with the new coronavirus arrived off Cambodia Thursday, as frustrated holidaymakers expressed hope that their ordeal may soon be over.

The Westerdam was supposed to be taking its 1,455 passengers on a dream 14-day cruise around east Asia, beginning in Hong Kong on February 1 and disembarking on Saturday in Yokohama, Japan.

But the ship was turned away from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand over fears of the novel coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 1,300 people in China.

Cruise operator Holland America has insisted there are no cases of the SARS-like virus on board and Cambodia announced Wednesday the ship would be able to dock in Sihanoukville, on its southern coast.

By morning, the ship could be seen on the horizon off Sihanoukville, dwarfing the small fishing vessels that usually ply the waters.

"First land sighting from the #Westerdam as the sun rises over Cambodia," passenger Christina Kerby tweeted, adding that passengers would undergo health checks before being able to disembark.

Cambodian premier Hun Sen is a staunch Chinese ally and has been vocal in his support of Beijing's handling of the epidemic, even going so far as to visit China last week in a show of solidarity.

"The permission to dock is to stop the disease of fear that is happening around the world," he told state-affiliated media website Fresh News on Wednesday.

"We must help them when they asked us for help," he added.

Passenger Stephen Hansen earlier told AFP he was disappointed about Thailand rejecting the Westerdam but hoped that he would be able to disembark in Cambodia.

"Running out of countries to try!" he said.

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