Thailand became the fifth country to refuse entry to the cruise ship Westerdam, which is run by Carnival Cruise, the same company that runs the 'Diamond Princess', the ship that is currently host to the largest nCoV outbreak outside mainland China.
The ship's beleaguered passengers and crew felt a glimmer of hope yesterday when the ship's captain announced that a port in Bangkok had offered safe harbor, after ports in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Taiwan turned the ship away. Guam has also refused the ship.
And now, the ship's 2,257 passengers and crew are in limbo once again, as provisions run down to their last few days.
Thai Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate said in a Facebook post the country would “gladly help providing fuel, medicine and food,” although the ship is not allowed to dock in the country's port, Reuters reports.
Fearing that some passengers aboard the Westerdam may be infected with the deadly new coronavirus, Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Tuesday in a Facebook post that authorities have decided not to let them disembark. Thailand has one of the highest infection rates in Asia outside China, according to the Hill.
The WHO has offered a potential lifeline by offering to send medical personnel aboard the ship to conduct tests. Though, as we've repeatedly seen in recent days, no test is 100% positive, and some patients in the US, Japan and elsewhere have been allowed to proceed only to develop symptoms a few days later.
The WHO said Thai officials have indicated that if the ship enters the country’s waters, "authorities may seek to board the ship to determine the health status of passengers and crew, to determine whether they would be allowed to eventually disembark in Thailand," according to a statement. The ship is currently off the southern coast of Vietnam, according to the WHO and Bloomberg data.
The ship is operated by the Holland America Line, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival.
The ship was sailing west roughly 60 miles off the southern coast of Vietnam on Tuesday morning, according to data from the Marine Traffic ship tracking website.
Governments around the world have stepped up travel restrictions, including bans on cruise ships arriving and leaving, over the past two weeks. Many countries and territories, including the US, have strictly limited the ability of Chinese people to enter their countries until the outbreak subsides.
One passenger who spoke to Bloomberg described the intense disappointment he felt when he learned Thailand had refused entry.
On board the Westerdam, passenger Stephen Hansen said he was relieved when travelers were initially told Monday that they would be allowed to disembark in Thailand. Guests scrambled to rebook flights home and everyone had their temperatures taken. By Tuesday morning, they learned from media reports that Thailand had refused the ship.
"To have that snatched away at the last minute with no other solution at hand was very upsetting," said Hansen, who is traveling with his wife. "So we are back in limbo again."
How many more countries will refuse the ship entry until it winds up stranded in the middle of the ocean with no food and no fuel? And once that happens, how much longer until things go all 'Lord of the Flies'