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Police launches criminal investigation into docking, disembarking of coronavirus-hit Ruby Princess

The New South Wales Police Force has commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the docking and disembarking of the coronavirus-hit cruise vessel Ruby Princess last month that led to numerous infections and deaths in the region.

After being tasked to conduct initial investigations, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said on April 5 that a criminal investigation is now underway to fully examine the communications, actions, and other circumstances that led to the docking and disembarking of the vessel at Sydney Harbour on 19 March 2020.

It is expected the investigation will involve interviewing thousands of witnesses, including the Ruby Princess’ captain and doctors, the crew and passengers as well as staff from various Commonwealth and NSW Government offices and agencies.

Commissioner Fuller said his initial assessment of the vessel’s pratique left questions about the transparency in conceptualizing the health conditions of passengers and crew in relation to COVID-19.

“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 March 18,” Fuller said.

“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 biosecurity laws or our state laws were broken is through a criminal investigation,” he explained.

The Commissioner 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.”

“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.”

COVID-19 cases on board Ruby Princess

As earlier reported, the cruise ship with a total of 2,647 passengers on board, arrived and disembarked in Sydney last month although some of them were displaying influenza-like symptoms. As a result, Ruby Princess is believed to have become Australia’s biggest source of COVID-19 infections.

Four people aboard the ship — three guests and one crew — initially tested positive for the coronavirus. The three passengers left the ship and received medical attention while the crew member remained in isolation on the vessel. One of the infected three guests later passed away in a local hospital. Ruby Princess’ death toll has so far increased to more than ten.

To date there have been more than 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in NSW in passengers who all acquired their infection while on, or in some cases, possibly before boarding the Ruby Princess cruise, NSW Health said last week. All passengers were advised to self-isolate for 14 days following disembarkation.

Meanwhile, the cruise company is struggling to repatriate the crew currently on board Ruby Princess on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.

The cruise ship has docked at the port of Port Kembla to allow for safer access for medical assessments, treatment, or emergency extractions of its crew.

“Aspen Medical are continuing to assess the health of the crew on board the Ruby Princess and have 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 depart Australian waters,” the police said.

Police have been advised that up to 200 of the 1,040 crew members currently on board the vessel are displaying symptoms, while 16 crew members are confirmed to have returned positive results for COVID-19.