Trump thanks Cambodia over ship in rare message to China-ally

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FILE PHOTO: Passengers onboard MS Westerdam, a cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone aboard might have the coronavirus, are seen in Sihanoukville, Cambodia February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has thanked Cambodia for taking in the castaway cruise ship MS Westerdam in a rare message to a country that is one of China’s closest allies and has often been at odds with Washington.

Five countries turned away the Westerdam, worried its passengers could be carrying the coronavirus despite it having no known cases before Cambodia’s authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen, agreed the passengers could disembark there.

“Thank you to the beautiful country of Cambodia for accepting the @CarnivalCruise ship Westerdam into your port. The United States will remember your courtesy,” Trump tweeted late on Friday.

The Westerdam, operated by Carnival Corp. unit Holland America Inc, docked in the port of Sihanoukville on Thursday after being shunned for two weeks. Its 1,455 passengers began to disembark on Friday to head home.

The passengers were tested regularly on the ship and Cambodia also tested 20 once it docked. None were found to have the new coronavirus that has killed more than 1,500 people, the vast majority in China.

Hun Sen has often sparred with the United States over its accusations of human rights abuses and its condemnation of a crackdown on the opposition since 2017.

He has brought Cambodia much closer to China, which has provided billions of dollars in aid and in loans for infrastructure projects as well as standing by Cambodia in the face of Western criticism.