Some 49 crew members from the Ruby Princess will be flying to their home countries, bringing the ship one step closer to leaving Australian waters.

NSW Police, along with NSW Health, the Australian Defence Force and Transport for NSW disembarked the crew members, one of whom tested positive for COVID-19.

The crew member was taken to an NSW Health-managed hotel to undertake a 14-day quarantine period.

The remaining crew were put up in hotels before being flown home. It is believed a number of government officials from overseas jurisdictions will also oversee the operation.

While more crew members will disembark the Ruby Princess over the coming days, a large number of the ship’s 1,100 crew will remain onboard.

The ship is expected to leave on Thursday.

“Today’s operation is the culmination of a significant joint effort by a number of agencies, and that effort will continue until we have ensured the safety and movement of every crew member, in line with their wishes,” said police chief Commissioner Mick Fuller.

“The health of those on board and protecting the people of NSW always has been – and will continue to be – our number one priority.

“The movement of the first crew contingent today is an important milestone and has us one step closer to the Ruby Princess leaving Australian waters.”

A Princess spokesperson said,”We are pleased that the repatriation of Ruby Princess crew members has begun and we have been actively participating in these arrangements.

“From the start, we wanted Ruby Princess to remain in Australia so that the health status of the crew could be stabilised and this has been achieved in combination with government agencies and Aspen Medical.

“We have been driving the repatriation process to ensure our crew can get safely home. This is what we do in normal times and we are doing this now in more complex circumstances. Arrangements have also been made for sufficient crew to safely operate the ship.

“The ship’s departure from Port Kembla is approaching as a result of working closely with NSW Health, Australian Border Force, NSW Police and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“We also wish to thank the Illawarra community and the Mission to Seafarers in Port Kembla for the way in which they have embraced the Ruby Princess crew.”