Australia launches criminal investigation into Ruby Princess

The Ruby Princess cruise ship sails off the coast of Sydney, Australia, 04 April 2020
The Ruby Princess remains off the coast of Sydney with 200 crew members showing symptoms of the virus

A criminal investigation has been launched in Australia into how cruise ship passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney despite some exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

More than 600 people on board the Ruby Princess later tested positive for coronavirus and 10 have since died.

The ship remains off the coast with nearly 200 sick crew members on board.

Police in New South Wales said they would look into whether national biosecurity laws had been broken.

Australia has so far reported 5,548 coronavirus cases and 30 deaths.

Those sickened on cruise ships account for nearly a tenth of all cases in Australia.

The country has imposed strict social distancing measures and clubs, cafes, parks and gyms have been closed in a bid to contain the outbreak

At a news conference, New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said there were “many unanswered questions” about the incident.

He said that, by law, vessels were only allowed to dock and disembark passengers if the captain could assure the local authorities that their ship was free from contagious disease.

Mr Fuller said there were “discrepancies” involving the information provided by the ship’s owners, Carnival Australia, and the requirements of the law.

“The only way I can get to the bottom of whether our national biosecurity laws and our state laws were broken is through a criminal investigation,” he told reporters.

Mr Fuller said that the day before passengers disembarked in Sydney a worker made an emergency call about two people who needed medical assistance. He said police were assured by the operating company that the coronavirus was not an issue on the ship.

“From that perspective, there are many unanswered questions,” he added.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller. 27 March 2020

The New South Wales government has faced mounting criticism for allowing people off the ship but has insisted that the decision was based on expert advice.

Mr Fuller added that Carnival Australia had said it would fully co-operate with the inquiry. The company has not yet commented publicly on the criminal investigation.

The Ruby Princess with about 2,700 people on board arrived in Sydney last month after an 11-day cruise.

According to NSW Health, about a dozen passengers had reported feeling unwell and had swabs taken for Covid-19. One was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

But other passengers on board weren’t told of this. Instead, they streamed off the boat at Circular Quay – some of them coughing and spluttering, according to witnesses. The busy area leads directly into the city centre, with transit links to the airport and outer suburbs.

An empty Ruby Princess cruise ship heading past Sydney Opera House and out of Sydney Harbour on 19 March.

Elisa McCafferty, an Australian woman who flew home to London with her husband immediately after disembarking, told the BBC: “Nothing was said at any time about anyone being sick onboard. It was a distinct lack of information coming through from Princess [Princess Cruises which is owned by Carnival] the entire time.”

A day after the ship docked, officials revealed cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in three people who had been on board, prompting a scramble to track down everyone who had been on the ship.

Ms McCafferty said she only learned of the danger when she checked her phone at Heathrow Airport.

“I was just absolutely petrified. We had just been on two full flights – what if we had infected someone?”

Carnival Australia Poised for Big Season

Carnival Spirit in Sydney

Carnival Australia announced that it is is on course for one of its biggest summer cruise seasons ever, featuring more than 600 calls to ports around the nation as well as the local debut of two new ships, the Ruby Princess and Carnival Splendor.

The season kicked off this week as the Majestic Princess sailed into Sydney following stops in Darwin and Brisbane. 

Her arrival marked the start of 625 calls to 34 different ports around Australia by 19 ships from the seven cruise lines represented by Carnival Australia: Carnival Cruise Line, P&O Cruises Australia, Princess Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises UK and Seabourn.

Carnival Australia President Sture Myrmell said the 2019-20 cruise season would feature an exciting range of ships as well as 50 inaugural port visits around the country for ships across the company’s cruise lines, according to a statement.

“This is going to be a summer cruise season to remember, with our cruise lines offering Australian holidaymakers a fantastic range of new itineraries and new ports across 19 great ships,” Myrmell said. “In fact the number of local port visits by our ships has grown by more than 50 per cent compared to the summer season 10 years ago, underlining not only the growing popularity of cruising but also how much cruising has become part of the tourism fabric of our nation.”

On her second season Down Under, the Majestic Princess’s arrival not only marks the start of the summer cruise season but the largest in history for Princess in this region, featuring a record 141-day deployment in Western Australia as well as cruising from the east coast.

Myrmell said highlights of the season also include the first Australian visit by the Ruby Princess which will arrive in Sydney on October 23, 2019, and the Australian debut of the Carnival Splendor, which will sail into her new homeport of Sydney on December 10, 2019. Her arrival means that Carnival Cruise Line will now have two full-time ships based Down Under.

Other inaugural ship and cruise line visits over the summer include Carnival Cruise Line’s first call to Adelaide (Carnival Spirit February 29, 2020); Cunard’s first call to Esperance in Western Australia, (Queen Elizabeth on December 9, 2020); Seabourn’s first call to Portland (Seabourn Encore on March 14, 2020) and Holland America’s first calls to Moreton Island (Maasdam on December 1, 2019); Portland (Maasdam on January 2, 2020) and Phillip Island (Maasdam on January 3, 2020).

Norwegian Jewel Set for Sydney Debut After Refit

Norwegian Jewel Pool Deck

Norwegian Cruise Line today announced the completion of the refurbishment of Norwegian Jewel as part of The Norwegian Edge program.

Following a two-week drydock in Singapore the Norwegian Jewel will debut in Sydney, Australia on Saturday, Dec. 1, showcasing refreshed venues, updated spaces, premier entertainment and redesigned staterooms, the company said.

The ship will spend her winter 2018 and spring 2019 seasons cruising from Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore, before joining Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy in Alaska for the summer.

“Norwegian Jewel’s complete renovation showcases our dedication to providing guests with quality experiences across the fleet and around the world,” said Andy Stuart, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line.

“Not only are we revealing updated designs and accommodations throughout the ship, but guests will also enjoy new venues and three incredibly exciting shows, one of which premieres for the first time on Norwegian Jewel.”

Norwegian Jewel Pitstop

The Norwegian Jewel will feature two new shows – “Rock You Tonight,” and ship exclusive “Velvet.” The Australian musical “Velvet” makes its debut at sea with disco classics, a combination of circus acrobatics, cabaret and burlesque elements, and features the talented Brenda Edwards of “X Factor UK” as the lead, with “The Voice” finalist, Frenchie Davis to follow.

Nearly all dining, bar and lounge offerings on Norwegian Jewel were updated, and two new venues were opened – The Pit Stop and Bliss Ultra Lounge, replacing the Sky High Bar and FYZZ Cabaret Lounge, the company said. Drawing inspiration from the 1950’s, The Pit Stop is an all-American bar retrofitted with vintage license plates, gas station signage and other classic car elements of the era. The Bliss Ultra Lounge offers late-night entertainment in a modern and upscale setting, with more intimate seating options now available.

New Look Atrium

All 1,188 staterooms were upgraded with new televisions and USB outlets, as well as new carpet, artwork and furniture. The Haven by Norwegian received updates to the courtyard, additional cabanas on the sun deck and new finishes, carpets, tiles, drapes, artwork and furniture for all suites and villas. The ship also now has two new Haven Deluxe Owner’s Suites, at nearly 1,200 square feet and featuring large, 567-square-foot balconies, two private jacuzzies and accommodates up to four guests.

The Atrium has also been revitalized with an entirely refreshed look centred around a custom-design chandelier and includes updated flooring, refurbished reception and shore excursion desk areas, the addition of relaxed banquette seating and a large TV screen.