The ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise ship, now the focus of a NSW homicide investigation, has docked in Wollongong after sailing off Sydney for more than two weeks.
The ship, with 1040 crew from 50 countries on board, docked at Port Kembla, south of Sydney on Monday morning, raising concerns the Illawarra region would not be able to cope with a medical emergency if crew members needed hospitalisation.
More than 200 of those on board have reported coronavirus symptoms.
NSW shadow health minister, Ryan Park, told the ABC the health infrastructure in the Illawarra region didn’t have the resources or staff to cope.
“We simply don’t have the capacity in terms of ICU beds or resources at our local hospitals. Why would anyone think it’s smart to move a cruise ship with hundreds of people sick, away from where the major hospitals are in Sydney? It’s appalling and it’s all about out of sight, out of mind for this government,” he said after the ship docked.
And a member of the South Coast Labour Council told the ABC on Monday afternoon the crew were told not to speak to the media: “
He said the pilots on the tug boats were given eight hours’ notice the ship was to dock at Port Kembla: “
Death toll rises to 40
Also on Monday, it was revealed that five more people have died from the coronavirus in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, taking the national death toll to 40. The toll in NSW rose to 18 after the deaths of two men aged 85 and 86 on Sunday.
In Victoria, a man in his 50s died in hospital and a woman in her 80s died at home from COVID-19 on Sunday. The state has 1158 confirmed cases, an increase of 23 from Sunday.
It is not yet known whether the latest casualties were passengers from the ship.
And in WA, a man in his 80s who was a passenger on board the Ruby Princess, died at Royal Perth Hospital.
There were seven new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in WA on Monday, taking the state’s total to 460.
ABC reporter Jesse Dorsett was at Port Kembla on Monday and was able to speak to a few of the Ruby Princess crew from their balconies.
“A few of the crew came out onto their balconies and were giving us a wave. I shouted out ‘are you guys all OK?’. They gave us a thumbs-up but said some people are still sick,” he said.
“We haven’t been able to speak to them until now and they passed about 50 metres and all the crew came out.
“I shouted out, ‘How are you all?’, and a few replied ‘we’re good’.
“And I said: ‘Are many sick?’. And they said: ‘Yes there is’.
“That was what we said in the short time. There was a tug boat and police boat following the cruise ship. That is still following, a police helicopter is above.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter has backed the NSW Police investigation announced by Police Commissioner Mick Fuller on Sunday. It will examine the circumstances surrounding the docking and disembarkation of passengers from the ship in Sydney on March 18.
“There’s a whole range of offences, including civil fraud, that may have been possibly committed and that’s what the investigation is about,” he told ABC Radio.
“If those offences can be substantiated by evidence then they would be very, very serious indeed.”
The NSW Police homicide squad investigation aims to identify how passengers were allowed to disembark from the ship in Sydney when there were suspected COVID-19 patients on board.
“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,” Mr Fuller said.
The investigation will examine the actions of the port authority, ambulance, police, the NSW Health department and Carnival Australia.
So far 11 passengers on board Ruby Princess have died while another 622 tested positive to COVID-19. The stricken ship will spend up to 10 days in port to allow medical teams safer access to sick crew members.
NSW has confirmed 2637 cases of the deadly coronavirus.
NSW Health said on Monday the state had 57 new cases, a drop on rise from Sunday.
According to the latest federal health department figures, last updated at 3pm on Sunday (AST), there have been 5687 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia, including 139 new cases overnight.
- Related: Ruby Princess leaves Sydney
Crew don’t need to leave ship
Aspen Medical executive chairman Glenn Keys said the Ruby Princess crew did not need to leave the ship for treatment.
“In our view, they can be treated on board,” he told ABC Radio.
“The ship’s been good in spreading the crew out to make sure there is enough room. They’ve got fresh air and the treatment they need.”
Ruby Princess owner Carnival Australia said the company was assisting the police investigation.
“In addition to 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,” a spokesman said.