Bermudian-registered ship in NSW inquiry
A Bermudian-registered cruise ship is under police investigation in Australia after passengers — many later found to have been infected with Covid-19 — were allowed to disembark without being questioned about their health.
The Ruby Princess, owned by Carnival Cruises, has 200 sick crew on board and is the focus of a New South Wales Police probe into the circumstances after is disembarked more than 2,500 passengers at Sydney's Circular Quay on March 19.
A total of three passengers and a crew member were found to have been infected with the coronavirus a day later and 12 people have since died.
More than 600 cases of Covid-19 have been reported out of 2,647 passengers who took the voyage to New Zealand and back.
There have been several stories in the Australian media about why the ship was allowed to dock and who was responsible for allowing passengers to disembark without proper health checks.
The ship is the single biggest source of coronavirus infections in Australia.
The Ruby Princess was again allowed to dock yesterday at Port Kembla, just south of Sydney, but this time under strict quarantine provisions.
A NSW Police statement said: “ … the crew will not disembark unless in an emergency and approved by the NSW Police Commissioner.
“She will also be refuelling and restocking provisions as required for her home journey.”
However, where her “home” is still to be established.
The ship is registered in Bermuda, but the 18-deck liner was based in Sydney for a six-month cruise season.
David Burt, the Premier, said he expected the ship would be dealt with under international maritime law.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism and Transport said: “The ministry can confirm that the Ruby Princess is registered in Bermuda and the vessel is currently in Australian waters where local authorities are providing medical assistance.
“Meanwhile, the Bermuda Shipping and Maritime Authority is in constant contact with representatives of Princess Cruises and the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency to provide diplomatic consular support via the Governor's office in consultation with the Foreign Commonwealth Office.”
Carnival Australia president Sture Myrmell said the company was in talks with federal and state authorities to repatriate the 1,100 crew on board the Ruby Princess and send them home.
The crew are from 50 countries, so repatriating them would be difficult.
Mr Myrmell said: “Being able to send home those crew members who are not required for the safe operation of the ship is the right thing to do both from a humanitarian point of view and Australia's international standing as a maritime nation that looks after foreign nationals in its care.”
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told the Australian ABC broadcaster that, although sick crew would be treated in NSW hospitals if needed, it was the responsibility of the operator, Carnival Australia, to repatriate everyone.
At least eight cruise ships were anchored off Sydney for more than two weeks, but after they were ordered to leave, they steamed into international waters.
However, with so many sick crew members on board the Ruby Princess, Carnival Australia was not prepared to allow the ship to put to sea.
Mr Myrmell argued it needed to remain close to Australia if crew became too sick to remain on board.
He said last week: “While illness on board has been reduced due to strong health management, the ship needs to remain within reach of Australia to access healthcare services if an urgent need arises.”
Several crew members were later taken off the ship to receive medical treatment in Sydney.
Australia's Attorney-General, Christian Porter, told ABC Radio yesterday: “Taking sick crew and passengers off any ship at sea is a dangerous task and that's why the ship will be docked.”
Police said the ship would remain in port under strict health and biosecurity guidelines and “will not pose a risk to employees at the port or the broader community”.
The criminal investigation will be led by the NSW Homicide Squad's Detective Chief Inspector Jason Dickinson, with oversight from the NSW coroner.
Police said thousands of witnesses were expected to be interviewed, including the Ruby Princess's captain and doctors, the crew and passengers, and staff from several federal and NSW government offices and agencies.
Mr Fuller added that investigators would examine the actions of everyone involved — including the cruise company and government agencies.
He said: “This is a complex issue and we will need information from many witnesses to answer all the questions about how this ship ended up docking last month.
“We are mindful that some of the key information we need will also come from passengers, so I urge those who were on board to reach out to us. ”