By Juarawee Kittisilpa and James Pearson
BANGKOK/HANOI (Reuters) - Thailand has barred passengers from Holland America's cruise ship MS Westerdam from disembarking, its health minister said on Tuesday, the latest country to turn it away amid fears of the coronavirus despite no confirmed infections on board.
The Netherlands-flagged ship was sailing west, 96 km (60 miles) off the southern coast of Vietnam on Tuesday morning, according to data from the Marine Traffic ship tracking website.
Holland America, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp, had said on Monday that passengers would disembark in Bangkok on Feb. 13 and that there was no reason to believe anybody on board had the virus.
"I have issued orders. Permission to dock refused," Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a Facebook post.
Thai Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate said in a separate Facebook post that, while the ship would not be allowed to dock, Thailand "will gladly help providing fuel, medicine, and food" to the ship.
The coronavirus that emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last month has caused chaos in Asia and beyond with many flights suspended, businesses disrupted and entry restrictions imposed by governments trying to ward off the spread.
Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, with 3,700 passengers and crew onboard, is quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama, with 135 cases of coronavirus detected on the Carnival Corp-owned vessel.
The World Dream cruise ship was held up in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong for days after it was linked to three cases but all passengers and crew later tested negative and were allowed to disembark.
The virus has killed more than 1,000 people - all but two in China - and infected more than 40,000, most in China but including 319 cases in 24 other countries and territories.
The Westerdam had already been turned away from several ports, including in Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines, amid fears of the virus.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) statement, Thai officials have said health authorities there may board the ship to conduct health checks on passengers first before granting permission to disembark.
VOYAGE TO NOWHERE
Holland America says no one on board has the virus. Media reports say it carries 1,455 passengers and 802 crew; its original destination was Yokohama, Japan, which refused it permission to dock.
"The ship is not in quarantine and we have no reason to believe there are any cases of coronavirus on board despite media reports," the company said.
It had earlier said the Westerdam was sailing towards Bangkok, and it is not immediately clear whether the ship would change course.
Holland America said it was aware of reports that Thailand planned to refuse permission for the Westerdam to dock there and was "actively working" on the matter.
"We know this is confusing for our guests and their families and we greatly appreciate their patience," the company said in a statement.
Some passengers on board the ship said they had not been told that the ship would be unable to dock in Thailand.
"(We) thought is was all finalised. Everyone has rebooked flights yet again! Now we are back in limbo," passenger Stephen Hansen told Reuters by email.
American tourist Angela Jones said passengers had been getting regular temperature checks but were becoming frustrated with the uncertainty.
(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok and James Pearson in Hanoi; Additional reporting by Kay Johnson in Bangkok; Editing by Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel)