Nightmare for thousands stranded on cruise ships amid COVID-19 outbreak

MS Westerdam

More than 2,000 passengers and crew have been left stranded aboard a cruise ship and low on supplies after Thailand became the fourth country to deny it permission to dock over fears about the coronavirus.

Operated by Holland America Line, a brand owned by Miami-based cruise giant Carnival Corp., the ship has been refused entry by five countries or territories, according to the WHO.

"I have issued orders".

Fearing that some passengers aboard the Westerdam may be infected with the deadly new coronavirus, Thailand's Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced Tuesday in a Facebook post that he's directed authorities not to let them disembark.

MS Westerdam, carrying more than 1,450 passengers, has spent the last week attempting to find a port that would allow it to dock after concerns rose over a possible outbreak of coronavirus. It is not known where it is headed next.

The cruise ship, which has 1,455 guests and 802 crew, had been denied entry by Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, and the US territory of Guam before attempting to dock in Thailand on Monday. Passengers will then disembark before being transferred via chartered flights to the country's capital, Phnom Penh, paid for by Holland America.

Holland America Line tweeted that "Westerdam is now sailing for Sihanoukville, Cambodia, arriving at 7am local time on Feb 13 & will remain in port for several days for disembarkation".

By noon today, the Westerdam was 280km from the Thai coast and on a heading for Bangkok, according to data published by the Marine Traffic ship tracking website.

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On board a United States cruise ship that is being rejected at Asian ports over coronavirus fears, stoic passengers are keeping spirits up with poolside yoga, spin classes, comedy shows and a few drinks.

The cruise ship operated by Carnival Corp's Holland America Line could be forced to wait until it's in distress - running out of water, food or fuel - before worldwide law-of-the-sea conventions kick in and legally obligate the closest country to admit the vessel or provide help, according to maritime experts.

Officials in Japan, meanwhile, said another 39 people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner had been diagnosed with the virus - officially named Covid-19 - bringing the number of cases on the ship to 174.

The ship is now off the southern coast of Vietnam, according to the World Health Organization and Bloomberg data.

Holland America says no one on board has the virus. Reportedly, CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) addressed Thailand authorities in a statement, asking to revise entry ban, and allow the ship to dock.

The boat departed Hong Hong on February 1 with 1,455 guests and 802 crew on board for a 14-day Taiwan and Japan cruise scheduled to end in the Japanese city of Yokohama on February 15.

The ship had already introduced extra health screening measures, including temperature checks and cleaning to defend against the virus, Holland America said in a statement. "I'm in the salon having my hair done right now and getting ready to hit the buffet", Christina Kerby said on Twitter, where her photos of yoga or posts on morning spin classes have bounced around.

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