The fallout from the decision last Thursday March 19th to allow passengers on cruise ship Ruby Princess (IMO 9378462) to disembark in Sydney, only for it soon to emerge that many of the passengers were already infected with coronavirus, has seen New South Wales, the federal authorities in Canberra and cruise ship operator Princess Cruise Lines all stating that they followed correct procedures.
Almost 2,700 passengers were allowed to leave the ship at Sydney Harbour. They caught trains, buses and some overseas flights to get home.
More than 130 people from the cruise have now tested positive. One passenger died in hospital on Tuesday March 24th.
New South Wales state’s health department allowed passengers off the ship because they were considered “low risk”, Australian Border Force (ABF) Commissioner Michael Outram said in Canberra on March 25th.
Outram said the health departments of respective states and territories were responsible for human biosecurity-related matters.
After an 11-day voyage, the ship returned to Sydney, cutting short its final New Zealand leg as the nation had announced a travel ban. NSW Health said that about a dozen passengers reported feeling unwell and they had swabs taken for Covid-19. An ambulance took a passenger to hospital. (The woman, aged in her 70s, was the one who died on Tuesday).
Five days earlier, Australia began ordering anyone returning from overseas, including cruise passengers, to self-isolate for 14 days.
But the Ruby Princess passengers were not screened and were unmonitored when they left the ship. About a third were international passengers, and these were told they could travel overseas immediately or self-isolate in Sydney for a fortnight.
NSW Health said that it had followed national guidelines, which allowed passengers to disembark if the route is considered “low risk”. The Ruby Princess was given that status because it had been to New Zealand only.
But only a day after the ship docked, officials revealed the first cases of Covid-19 confirmed in three people who had been on board – two passengers and a crew member. That prompted a scramble to track down everyone else who had been on board.
Princess Cruises said that it followed official guidelines.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison described the mistake as the responsibility of state officials. NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard rejected Canberra’s accusations that state officials had not properly checked cruise ships upon entry.
“New South Wales is actually going over and above what the national guidelines are,” said Hazzard.
It was noted that, while Canberra had enacted a ban on cruise ships arriving, it had allowed four including the Ruby Princess to be exempt. Four other cruise ships in Sydney have been linked to confirmed Covid-19 cases. The Ovation of the Seas ship, which docked in Sydney a day before the Ruby Princess, has seen five positive tests.
Health officials said that infected patients were in self-isolation or in hospital. All passengers had been told to quarantine themselves.
2008-built, Bermuda-flagged, 113,561 gt Ruby Princess is owned by Princess Cruise Lines of Valencia, California, USA. It is entered with Steamship Mutual and with UK Club.