Apr 6, 2020 - Health

Australian police open criminal probe into Ruby Princess cruise ship

The Ruby Princess, whose passengers were allowed off the ship in Sydney on March 19, is now under police investigation

The Ruby Princess cruise ship docks at Port Kembla, Australia, on Monday. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The coronavirus-hit Ruby Princess berthed in New South Wales, Australia, on Monday — hours after police in the southeast Australian state launched a criminal investigation into the cruise ship.

Why it matters: Per the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 600 people who were aboard the Ruby Princess and killed 11 others — accounting for 30% of all deaths from the virus in Australia.

  • The NSW Homicide Squad is investigating the circumstances surrounding a March 19 disembarkation of some 2,700 passengers in Sydney after a brief cruise to New Zealand, per a police statement.

Details: Up to 200 of the 1,040-member crew aboard the ship are showing symptoms for the virus, police said. Sick crew members were being treated on board or transported to hospital.

  • NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said in the statement his initial assessment "left questions about the transparency in conceptualizing the health conditions of passengers and crew in relation to COVID-19" and the only way he could determine whether any state or national biosecurity laws were broken was to launch a criminal probe.
  • "There appears to have been an exceptional amount of effort put in by [port officials] to determine the true nature of the conditions on board — and even delayed the vessels arrival until they were provided additional information," Fuller said.

The big picture: Australia has reported more than 35 deaths from the coronavirus and over 5,600 cases as of early Monday, according to Johns Hopkins.

  • The Australian government issued on March 16 a ban on cruise ships that prevents them from docking except for emergencies.
  • State health authorities had classed the Ruby Princess as low risk based on the information available at the time of the Sydney docking, per Reuters. The Australian Border Force then "issued a notice allowing the passengers to travel home freely" but requiring them to isolate for 14 days, the news agency notes.

What they're saying: Carnival Australia, which operates the Ruby Princess, said in a statement to news outlets the firm is "willingly participating in the investigation."

  • "Carnival Australia will vigorously respond to any allegations of which there must now be full disclosure and the basis for them," the statement added.

What's next: The ship is expected to remain at port for up to 10 days, "but the crew will not disembark unless in an emergency and approved by the NSW Police Commissioner," police said in a separate statement.

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