Western Australia’s premier wants the Navy to help move on a cruise ship that is anchored off the WA coast with seven confirmed coronavirus patients on board.
WA Health Department officials boarded the Artania on Wednesday after 25 passengers reported respiratory illnesses. Since then, seven passengers have been confirmed with COVID-19.
The vessel is carrying about 1300 crew and passengers, although none are Australian.
WA has closed its borders and authorities have said only people with life-threatening medical situations will be allowed to come into the state.
WA Premier Mark McGowan wants the Navy to help get the Artania to leave Australian waters, and said the Commonwealth should help treat any sick patients in a secure facility.
“The Commonwealth has assets here, it has defence assets, it has the Navy. We’d like their assistance to try to get the Artania to leave as soon as possible,” he said.
“Its home port is actually Germany, so what we’re saying to the ship is ‘you need to leave’, and we’re saying to the Commonwealth ‘you need to help us get that ship to leave’.”
Mr McGowan said on Wednesday that 800 Australians on board a second cruise ship that is due to dock in Fremantle on Friday will be taken straight to Rottnest Island for two weeks quarantine.
The remaining passengers and crew – mostly New Zealanders and Britons – will remain in quarantine on board the Vasco de Gama when it docks.
It comes as NSW said it would block cruise ship passengers and crew from disembarking there until new border protections are in place.
The move will leave thousands of cruise ship passengers and crew stranded.
The federal government last week restricted all cruise ships from entering Australia for 30 days. But about 12 ships that were at sea when the restriction was introduced now want to dock in NSW.
“No one will be allowed to leave any of these cruise ships until we have settled on the agreed new measures,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
The NSW and federal governments are working on guidelines, but what they will include and when they will be decided upon is unclear.
The move came after a war of words broke out between federal and state authorities over who was to blame for allowing 2700 passengers to disembark from the Ruby Princess cruise ship last week.
More than 130 passengers from the vessel have tested positive for coronavirus, including a 77-year-old woman who died earlier this week. Another cruise ship passenger died in Townsville on Wednesday, and three more in Victoria on Thursday – bringing Australia’s coronavirus toll to 12.
When the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney, 13 people were suffering from respiratory problems and were tested, but passengers were allowed to leave before the results came back.
The Australian Border Force said it was NSW Health that allowed passengers to disembark.
“The Department of Agriculture officials advised my officers that NSW Health had conducted a risk assessment, had rated the risk as low and that health officials would not be attending the vessel,” ABF commissioner Michael Outram said.
“As a result of that information, all of the passengers were given a green light to disembark.”
But NSW Health said it had followed and exceeded national protocols.
The state has already strengthened its rules for cruise ships after being criticised for its handling of the Ruby Princess. NSW Police now has given responsibility for controlling and quarantining cruise ships and other vessels.
Meanwhile, the federal government is trying to come up with ways to rescue more than 3000 Australians stranded on dozens of cruise ships overseas.
The stranded Australians are scattered across more than 30 vessels in waters off South America, Europe and the US.
“We are working directly with them,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne told the Nine Network on Thursday.
There are generally hundreds of thousands of Australians overseas at any one time.
Thousands of people are desperately trying to get home but are finding it extremely difficult, with countries such as Nepal and South Africa grounding flights altogether.
There are additional pressures in countries such as Peru, where public gatherings, free movement and business operations have been heavily constrained.
“We are very focused in the most difficult areas of working with partners who can assist us in returning Australians,” Senator Payne said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has had more than 18,500 requests for assistance from Australians stranded overseas since March 13.