Passengers Finally Let Off Ship Just Want to Go Home

Kept Aboard Over Virus Fears, Hundreds Await Tickets Out of Cambodia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 19, 2020 6:16 PM CST
Freed From Their Cruise Ship, Passengers Are Still Stranded
Passengers from the cruise ship Westerdam watch Cambodian dancers perform at a hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The cheers of celebration have faded. The waving of roses has ceased. Having finally reached a friendly port in Cambodia willing to accept them after nearly two weeks of uncertainty at sea, hundreds of cruise ship passengers eyed warily over fears of a new virus are now simply trying to find a way home. "We're in this sort of surreal world," said Lydia Miller, 55, of Orcas Island, Washington, who is camped out at a hotel in Phnom Penh, waiting for word on how she and her husband might be able to return to the US. "It's a weird feeling to travel and go on a trip and you don’t know when you can come home." The MS Westerdam arrived Feb. 13 in Cambodia after repeatedly being denied entry to other ports, the AP reports. The thrill of the moment, complete with a visit from the country’s prime minister greeting passengers with hugs and flowers, has now evaporated for those facing a logistical nightmare to get home.

Travel options have been narrowed by a growing list of countries denying entry to passengers who were aboard the Westerdam. A diplomat working with the passengers said getting people home remains complicated by individual countries’ travel restrictions and a dearth of available flights. That was echoed by Holland America Line, which operates the Westerdam and which has been coordinating passengers' flights. "It's a math problem: How many people do you have? How many seats do you have?" Holland America’s president, Orlando Ashford, said. Tony Martin-Vegue, whose wife, Christina Kerby, remains in Phnom Penh, began preparing for her return to California’s Bay Area once she got off the ship. He cleaned the house and, with the couple’s 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, picked up flowers and a favorite local coffee and planned a party to welcome her home. Now he’s not sure when that might happen.

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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