NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has ordered an investigation into how the Ruby Princess came to land and disembark 2,650 passengers while tests being carried out on 13 other passengers with flu like symptoms.

The vessel has now become the largest source of Australian fatalities from COVID-19 after two more died yesterday.  There are over 300 other cases from passengers who were allowed off the ship that day and who then travelled across the country.

What occurred on Thursday, March 19 at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal is now being investigated by Police Commission Mick Fuller.

The questions that need answers are:

  • What exactly did the ship’s captain report to the shore about the medical condition of its passengers and crew
  • Why were 2,650, some of whom may have been sick but not showing symptoms, allowed to leave so hastily and travel across Australia when others were still being tested for coronavirus.
  • What were the protocols in place that day and were they followed “to the letter” by all parties
  • What was the communication between the two departments running the exercise:  Border Protection and NSW Health

Carnival Australia and Princess Cruises insist that the vessel carried out all of the NSW government protocols about landing “to the letter”. Carnival Australia boss Sture Myrmell strongly denied any problems with the ship in a video statement this week.

And indeed,  initially NSW Health and the Federal Border Protection Force blamed each other for the the bungle, with state health minister Brad Hazzard accepting that it was the wrong decision “with hindsight”.

But in the past 48 hours, the mood has changed.  Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton accused unspecified cruise lines of “lying” in a radio interview, and now Ms Berejiklian has also cast doubt on the versions of what happened.

“I appreciate how upset everybody is. Don’t you think I’m upset? I’ve lived this and breathed this every day of my life,’’ Ms Berejiklian told Sydney’s 2GB radio.

“There were several authorities involved and I’ll be the first one to look someone in the eye if they’ve done the wrong thing and make them accountable.

“The question remains, and I’ve asked the police commissioner to look into this, what information was provided to health and authorities and why did this occur?”

Ruby Princess crew disembarked with influenza like symptoms
Ruby Princess crew disembarked with influenza like symptoms

Yesterday,  Australian Border Force officers ferried medical staff to the ship off Sydney Harbour to determine the health of crew members aboard. Carnival Australia is appealing to the State Government to allow the 1,100 men and women off the ship so they can fly home to their loved ones, but Police commissioner Mr Fuller has ordered the Ruby Princess and seven other vessels out of Australian waters.

Mr Fuller told The Australian he did not want more than 8000 crew members quarantined in Sydney because a percentage could develop COVID-19 symptoms and end up depleting the state’s healthcare ­resources.

The police chief signalled this week a major operation involving Aspen Medical, an Australian company involved in evacuating the Diamond Princess in Japan during a coronavirus epidemic, and doctors possibly being aided by the Australian Defence Force.

The extraction of any crew who fail a virus test is being planned for Monday. The Australian has suggested as many as 200 crew may have symptoms.

 A letter sent by the ABF commissioner to the cruise ship operators last week stipulated that if its ships did not leave Australia, they could face fines of up to $63,000 and five years’ imprisonment. The operators have appealed and are awaiting a verdict.