The New South Wales (NSW) police is investigating the circumstances surrounding the docking and disembarkation of passengers from the ‘Ruby Princess’ at Sydney last month.
After being tasked by the NSW Premier to conduct initial investigations, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller announced last week that a criminal investigation was underway to fully examine the communications, actions, and other circumstances that led to the berthing and disembarkation from the vessel on 19th March, 2020.
The police said that the investigation will involve interviewing thousands of witnesses, including the ‘Ruby Princess’ Master and doctors, crew and passengers; and staff from various Commonwealth and NSW Government offices and agencies.
Commissioner Fuller said; “I’ve examined a number of phone calls between NSW Ambulance, Port Authority of NSW and NSW Police that stemmed from the initial 17-minute Triple Zero call from the ship to NSW Ambulance on 18th March.
“There appears to have been an exceptional amount of effort put in by ports to determine the true nature of the conditions on board – and even delayed the vessels arrival until they were provided additional information.
“After reviewing the information at hand, the only way I can determine whether our national bio-security laws or our state laws were broken is through a criminal investigation,” he explained.
He added that investigators will examine the actions of everyone involved – whether from the cruise company or government agencies.
“This is a complex issue and we will need information from many witnesses to answer all the questions about how this ship ended up docking last month,” Fuller added. “We are mindful that some of the key information we need will also come from passengers, so I urge those who were on board to reach out to us – please contact Crime Stoppers, as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, the local Aspen Medical is continuing to assess the health of the crew on board the ‘Ruby Princess’ and has developed a plan in conjunction with NSW Health, the NSW Police Force’s Marine Area Command, and Australian Border Force to manage their welfare until they can leave Australia.
On 8th April, 2020, strike force detectives boarded the vessel to conduct inquiries, which included speaking with crew members, as well as seizing the voyage data recorder (black box) and other items of interest to the investigation.
As at the end of last week, there were 361 passengers and 18 crew members that have tested positive for COVID-19, and in addition, there were six deaths associated with the vessel across Australia.
A team of 30 NSW detectives from across State Crime, Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics and Marine Area Commands have been seconded to Strike Force Bast, which started work on 8th April. They are being assisted by intelligence analysts and other specialist officers.
Over 1,000 crew members from 50 different countries were still said to be on board the vessel, which is moored in Port Kembla, south of Sydney. Around 200 have flu-like symptoms. Commissioner Fuller said that about three-quarters of the crew wanted to remain on the vessel.
Port Kembla’s Mission to Seafarers charity has organised care packages from across the Illawarra area to be distributed to those on board.
She is due to leave Port Kembla and return to Bermuda as soon as possible, as Australia has ordered all foreign flagged cruise ships to leave its waters. Most have now sailed, local reports said.