A criminal investigation into the conduct of Carnival Australia amid the Ruby Princess debacle, which saw 2700 passengers disembark the ship in Sydney despite passengers showing coronavirus symptoms, will be launched by police.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller confirmed there would be a criminal investigation into who is to blame for allowing the ship to dock and disembark infected passengers, after what he said was “a significant amount of deaths”.
Ten passengers from the Ruby Princess have died since the ship docked in Sydney on March 19, allowing 2700 passengers disembark despite some on board having COVID-19 symptoms.
It’s considered one of the biggest “disasters” in Australia’s fight against the pandemic.
To date, more than 620 passengers on-board have tested positive for COVID-19. The number accounts to 10 per cent of Australia’s confirmed cases.
“There are 10 deaths relating from the Ruby,” Mr Fuller said in a press conference this afternoon. “That’s a significant amount of deaths for one incident.”
Mr Fuller said there was “clear evidence” coronavirus was brought off the ship. He said it is “too early to tell” whether a crime has been committed, and the only way to determine that was through a criminal investigation.
Mr Fuller said there were “many unanswered questions” despite early investigations over the past 48 hours, and he could “only turn so many rocks” in that time.
“Detective Chief Inspector Jason Dickinson from the homicide squad, I’ll hand over all the information I’ve collected over the last 48 hours … tomorrow and the deputy commissioner will make contact with the NSW State Coroner,” he said.
Mr Fuller said there were “absolute discrepancies” in the case, and “a lot more work to be done”.
He said the ship’s operator, Carnival Cruises, had agreed to co-operate, and that the investigation would require emails, text messages, correspondence between doctors and the ship’s captain, and crucially, witness accounts.
On Sunday, NSW Health’s Dr Jeremy McAnulty announced the state had recorded four more deaths overnight, three of which had been passengers on board the Ruby Princess cruise ship. A total of ten people from who were on the ship have now died across Australia.
The NSW Government is under fire over its handling of the Ruby Princess cruise liner. Test results released by the government on March 20 showed four passengers had contracted the virus while on-board, but by that time 2647 people had left the ship.
News.com.au has contacted Carnival Australia for comment.
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The announcement of the criminal investigation comes after a string of leaked phone calls between the Port Authority of NSW and senior Carnival Australia officials may have led to a snap decision to allow the Ruby Princess to dock in Sydney on March 19.
According to records obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, several phone calls took place on the evening of March 18 and in the early hours of March 19, which was just hours before the “death ship” docked in Sydney.
According to the publication, Port Authority officials had initially denied the ship permission to dock after they were made aware that some passengers on board had COVID-19 symptoms.
A representative from the Ruby Princess contacted Ambulance NSW to book two vehicles for patients they believed had coronavirus and had allegedly been tested.
That information was translated to the NSW Port Authority, who made the decision to deny the ship entry in to Sydney Harbour.
However, after receiving a call about midnight from Carnival Australia authorities, the publication alleges the Port Authority backflipped on its decision, allowing the Ruby Princess to dock.
According to the Port Authority logs, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph , it is claimed the ambulance vehicles were called to the port to transfer three passengers with complications unrelated to the virus.
While it was the Port Authority that allowed the ship to dock, the decision to have passengers disembark was under the watch of NSW Health.
News.com.au has contacted NSW Port Authority for comment.
On Saturday, NSW Labor called for the state’s Health Minister Brad Hazzard to resign over the Ruby Princess scandal, with the Opposition labelling it “one of the greatest health disasters” in NSW history.
“The buck stops with the Health Minister and we are today calling for the health minister to stand aside,” Opposition Leader Jodi McKay said in a statement.
However, Mr Hazzard defended the government’s actions, saying the experts who made the decision were the “best in the world”.
“Each of the staff of the chief health officer who made the decision made it to the best of their ability. And those people are experts in their field,” Mr Hazzard said.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said if they had known coronavirus was on board the ship, they would have disembarked the passengers differently and moved them to self-isolation.
But she said that would have prevented only 11 cases of the virus.
“The people that have acquired their infection on the cruise ship could not have been avoided and every period of time that people were on that cruise ship, there were actually at risk of more transmission on the cruise ship in a very, vulnerable age group,” Dr Chant said.
More than one in 10 of NSW’s coronavirus cases are connected to the Ruby Princess cruise ship as well as seven of NSW’s 12 COVID-19 deaths.
According to The Sun-Herald, the Ruby Princess had logged 128 ill passengers and crew on board, with 24 of those having a fever over 38 degrees.
The report, obtained by the publication, allegedly shows a further six people reported muscle aches, diarrhoea, severe headaches or vomiting.
The publication claims instead of asking passengers whether they had travelled to a variety of countries considered medium or high risk, it is understood those on board were only asked to specify if they’d travelled through mainland China or Iran or transited through South Korea. However, at the time the ship was allowed to dock in Sydney, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand had been listed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as moderate to high risk.