Graeme Lake celebrated his wife’s 75th birthday aboard the Ruby Princess on its now infamous cruise back to Sydney last month.

They were among those ushered off the ship while 13 fellow passengers were being tested.

They travelled back to Murrumba Downs, Queensland, before both started to display signs of COVID-19.

Mrs Lake died in hospital 10 days after leaving the cruise ship. And now Mr Lake is angry.

“She didn’t deserve it. She went on the cruise for her birthday so it’s really devastating. Even now I’m still struggling,” he told the ABC’s 7.30 report.

“The cruise has ruined us. It broke me and it has broken the kids and grandkids.”

Graeme and KarlaLike many passengers, his biggest complaint is his claim that the couple were never told of the risks, and had no idea the virus was on board the ship.

Now he wants answers. And he is not alone.

Last night, the allegations spread to American and Canada, with the death of the Ruby Princess‘ 20th victim – Steven Lazarus, 76,  died on April 9 after developing COVID-19 symptoms on his return to the United States.

His wife, Elissa, also travelled on the cruise ship and tested positive, but has not shown symptoms. Now there are cases in Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

When Norwegian Cruise Lines’ CEO Frank Del Rio was asked about the comeback of the cruise industry after coronavirus, he reminded his audience that the public’s memory was roughly eight weeks after the peak of media headlines.

As a survivor of the 9/11 and SARS, Frank believed he knew what he was talking about.

But that was before the Ruby Princess – now set to be the epicentre of one of the longest running investigations in cruise ship history.

If anyone was hoping when she sails out of Port Kembla on Sunday her name will disappear from the headlines, they are very much mistaken.

Ruby Princess
Ruby Princess

There are three separate investigations: one by the police, who have appealed for every one of the ship’s 2,654 passengers to come forward and give evidence, including those who left for overseas homes. The 1,100 crew come from 50 countries.

And today, they announced they would also be interviewing passengers from the previous journey, where it has been said some were already sick.  That may well add considerably to the investigation’s burden.

The police are expected to report in about five months.

Following that report, there may or may not be charges. The probe is being led by the homicide squad, so most believe any charges will be serious. So the trials of anyone accused will take weeks or months to go through the courts. Then there will be the appeals.

This week, a special commission led by Sydney silk Bret Walker was announced by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Mr Walker, who led the successful appeal by Cardinal George Pell, and who Lawyers Weekly magazine claims charges $25,000 a day, will work on the inquiry for four to five months.

Mr Walker is already suggesting a wider inquiry into the cruise industry.

He said his own investigations would focus on the procedures in play on the morning ruby Princess docked. “I think it’s not a big assumption on my part that any protocol that produced this outcome urgently needs improvement,” he told ABS’s Radio National.
He added that it may be others would need to look “over a much more extended period whether that’s an industry that could take some much more fundamental review on the way they conduct themselves”.
He also said the way cruises are conducted now may not be consistent with today’s social distancing.
“There may just be some contradictions in respect to what people pay their money for on a cruise ship and the kind of conduct which would be calculated to contain contagion.”

Even after Mr Walker and the police have reported, here will almost certainly be inquests into the 20 deaths that resulted from the Ruby Princess outbreak.

And finally, there are the threats of litigation from passengers both in Australia and America. They could take years.

Shine Lawyers has commenced an investigation into a class action possibly alleging failure to protect the health and safety of passengers.

Shine Lawyers has told Lawyers Weekly hundreds of people have sent enquiries to the firm for a class action, including 19 overseas guests and some of the 700 passengers who tested positive to COVID-19 after the cruise, which left Sydney on March 8.

Jan Swartz, Princess
Jan Swartz and Diamond Princess

This week, Princess Cruises took out full page advertisements in the Australian press welcoming the inquiries.

The line’s president Jan Swartz wrote: “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.”

According to the ABC, the criminal investigation, which launched last week, has 220 leads.

Ms Swartz maintains that what happened as the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney was happening around the world.

“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.”