There are now three investigations into the docking and disembarking of the Ruby Princess after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian appointed Sydney silk Bret Walker to conduct a special commission of inquiry.
Along with a police investigation being conducted by the homicide squad and a coroner’s inquiry, Mr Walker’s special commission will have “exceptional powers”.
Which may explain why a statement issued in response by Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz appeared to have just a note of exasperation about it.
“We have worked hard to establish strong relations with our guests, travel agents and other stakeholders in Australia. We also have worked closely with the Australian government over a long period of time on many initiatives… It is painful for Princess to be in a situation of potential conflict with those we work with and respect,” she said.
“We hope these inquiries will provide a basis for fair, open and positive discussions that will allow us all to learn more about this virus and re-build connections between all of us.”
The Commission of Inquiry will be led by Mr Walker, who successfully appealed against George Pell’s conviction in the High Court. He will investigate all matters and agencies involved with the Ruby Princess’ departure and its return to Circular Quay on March 19.
The inquiry will be expected to report back to the Premier in three to four months, while the criminal investigation will not conclude for another five months.
“It is important that answers are provided quickly for the people of NSW,” Ms Berejiklian said. “I have decided that the quickest path to answers is through a powerful and independent inquiry.”
On March 19, 2,650 passengers were allowed to disembark despite some showing symptoms of being swabbed for coronavirus.
So far, 18 passengers have died and there are several hundred cases that have been associated with the ship.
The Ruby Princess docked at Port Kembla last week, with 128 crew onboard testing positive for COVID-19. A number of crew have been evacuated, requiring care in hospital.
According to the ABC, the criminal investigation, which launched last week, has 220 leads.
NSW Police have indicated all passengers may be interviewed.
“This Commission of Inquiry is an opportunity for all to learn from this tragic event. Princess welcomes the inquiry and appreciates the Premier’s statement of an independent inquiry that will leave no stone unturned. There are no doubt important lessons to be learned as we seek to understand how the virus works and continue to adapt to a world with COVID-19,” Ms Swartz said.
“What happened on Ruby Princess reflected what was happening in the world. Even at the time the ship left Sydney, international flights were coming to Australia, the borders were still open and major sporting events were still being played to packed stadiums. This was an unprecedented global situation and everyone involved was no doubt making the best decisions they could at the time.
Ms Swartz acknowledged the US-based cruise line was still working alongside NSW Health, Australian Border Force, the ABF’s contractor Aspen Medical and the NSW Police while Ruby Princess remained at Port Kembla.
“I want to acknowledge the many decent people involved at this operational level who remain committed to the care and wellbeing of our crew, including those who were seriously ill,” she said.
“This will be a difficult period for all involved but we have a shared responsibility, along with all of society, to learn from these events.”
Ms Swartz has worked tirelessly since the pandemic , flying to Japan to personally see of passengers and crew from the Diamond Princess, the first Princess vessel to be hit.