Phuket liner let-in cops flak
Critics level claims of double standards
More than 4,000 passengers and crew members from two cruise liners were allowed to alight in Phuket on Thursday, after public health officials said they had cleared them of the deadly coronavirus, prompting criticism of double standards after the Netherlands-flagged MS Westerdam cruise ship was turned away on Wednesday.
The Bahamas-flagged Seabourn Ovation, which has 495 vacationers and 470 staff on board, anchored at the Phuket deep-sea port on Thursday. It was returning from Malaysia's Langkawi Island. Everybody onboard, most of them European, were screened by public health officials before being given permission to step ashore.
Phuket Marine Office chief Wiwat Chidcherdwong confirmed all passengers and crew on the ship had tested negative. The ship was anchored for just 10 hours before it departed for Singapore.
Another cruise liner, Quantum of the Seas, with 3,100 passengers and crew on board, docked at Phuket's Patong pier, and everybody was allowed to disembark after their temperatures were tested. The ship then continued to Singapore.
Phuket governor Pakkapong Tawipat said the first two months of the year is the peak period for cruise liners to visit Phuket with 17 expected this month and 12-15 next month. Deputy government spokeswoman Traisulee Traisoranakul said the Seabourn Ovation was allowed to dock in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laem Chabang in Chon Buri, Koh Kood in Trat, Kuala Lumpur, and Langkawi.
Doctors on board the ship reported all passengers and crew had no symptoms of the virus and were able to be traced as the ship was in port for just 10 hours, Ms Traisulee said. This was different from the Westerdam liner which sought permission for an emergency docking and was turned away by Thailand and four other countries, she said.
"Thailand has no policy to ban any ship from docking... But the country now has measures to control disease, and the safety of Thais is a priority,'' she said.
#seabournovation has been trending on Twitter in Thailand as internet users questioned the seemingly different standards applied in the cases of the Seabourn Ovation and the Westerdam.
Since sailing from Hong Kong on Feb 1, the Westerdam with 1,455 passengers and 802 crew had been turned away by Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Guam and Thailand over fears that some of its passengers may have been infected by the coronavirus. Twenty-one Thais are also among the passengers and crew.
Earlier on Wednesday, Thailand was asked to allow the ship to dock at Laem Chabang after the operator requested help from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and governments. Thai authorities, however, denied the ship permission to dock, citing precautionary measures against the coronavirus.
Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate said the Marine Department had worked to screen all passengers and crew on board the Seabourn Ovation and the Quantum of the Seas in line with standard practices. The ships were asked to send health reports of their passengers and crew to doctors at the Phuket immigration 24 hours before the ships docked, Mr Atirat said.
Meanwhile, Cambodian authorities said on Thursday that at least 20 passengers of the Westerdam who have been ill will have samples of their blood tested at the Pasteur Institute for possible coronavirus infection.
Pol Maj Gen Chuon Narin, a Preah Sihanouk provincial policeman, said a government working group is aboard the ship to give medical checks to passengers and crew before they are allowed to disembark.
"We suspect that 20 of the passengers may be infected with coronavirus and their blood samples will be flown to Phnom Penh to expedite matters," he said. The Westerdam, which is owned by Holland America Line, arrived at the Cambodian deep-sea port on Thursday morning.
Pol Maj Gen Atchayon Kraithong, head of the Immigration Bureau's Division 3, said rigorous measures were in place to screen any passengers from the Westerdam who intend to travel to Thailand to board flights.