A criminal investigation into the disastrous handling of the Ruby Princess is set to begin on Monday as the vessel is moved to Wollongong.
The cruise ship will likely spend up to 10 days docked at Port Kembla as the crew on board are monitored for the virus and taken to land for healthcare, if needed.
The announcement that NSW was launching a homicide investigation came as the Ruby Princess was on Sunday linked to a total of 11 deaths from the coronavirus.
Families have been revealing conditions on board the ship, including how people were coughing and visibly unwell – leading to further questions over why passengers were allowed to disembark.
One of the victims was identified as Leonard Fisher, an 81-year-old from Tasmania. His son Greg told 60 Minutes Mr Fisher contracted the virus on the ill-fated cruise.
He recalled his dad said “at my age, I’ll probably never get a chance to do another trip like this again”, before growing concerned about the escalating virus outbreak on the ship, Greg told 60 Minutes.
Greg noted that his dad had been sitting beside a man who was “coughing and coughing, and coughing”, but the pair ultimately trusted Carnival Cruises, the company which owned Ruby Princess.
“At no stage were the passengers told that there was a possibility of coronavirus on that boat. They were unaware of any sickness that was on that boat, it was just so wrong,” Greg said.
A decision to disembark resulted in 11 deaths
The NSW police homicide squad will be leading the investigation into how passengers were allowed to leave the Ruby Princess in Sydney.
The ship has emerged as a main source of COVID-19, with a total of 622 people who had been onboard so far testing positive for the coronavirus including 342 NSW residents.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said that while they had “many unanswered questions”, there was clear evidence COVID-19 had come off the Ruby Princess and at least 11 passengers had died in Australia because of it.
“There seems to be absolute discrepancies between the information provided by Carnival and what I would see is the benchmark for the laws of the federal and state government,” Mr Fuller told reporters on Sunday.
On March 18, the day before the ship disembarked in Sydney, a worker on board the Ruby Princess was on the phone to Triple 0 for 17 minutes, relaying information about two passengers who needed medical attention, Mr Fuller revealed.
He said an ambulance supervisor went a step further and notified the NSW Police Marine Area Command about the potential for infection to spread to other passengers.
Leaked emails further revealed results of onboard swab tests from the cruise ship’s passengers who were showing signs of influenza would have been available the same day passengers disembarked.
However, Carnival Cruises later informed police that “COVID-19 wasn’t an issue on the ship”, Mr Fuller added.
NSW police confirmed the Ruby Princess will arrive at Port Kembla on Monday “to allow for safer access for medical assessments, treatment, or emergency extractions of her crew.”
The vessel is likely to remain docked for up to 10 days for medical assessments, treatment or emergency extractions of the crew, but they won’t be disembarked unless in an emergency and approved by Mr Fuller.
Health Minister gives permission to disembark the ship
Health Minister Brad Hazzard stood behind his staff who had allowed the Ruby Princess to disembark on March 19, despite knowing the results would be available within hours.
But NSW Labor called for Mr Hazzard to resign over the scandal, with the opposition labelling it “one of the greatest health disasters” in NSW history.
Watch: Brad Hazzard blasts criticism of the handling of Ruby Princess coronavirus cases
Three more cruise ship fatalities
The NSW death toll reached 16 on Sunday after it was revealed four more people had died from the coronavirus in NSW, including passengers of the Ruby Princess.
The deaths were all men, aged 61, 76, 80, and 91, NSW Health protection confirmed on Sunday.
Rate of coronavirus infection slows
The good news is that Australian infection rates have eased by 25 to 30 per cent a couple of weeks ago to single figures in recent days.
It was as if the country was at the end of the first quarter in the grand final and a goal ahead, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said.
“We know that if we work as a team and play as we are now, we can get the premiership, but we are a long way away from that being the case,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“It is far too early to drop the ball and …. if we do stop these measures too early, then we have seen graphs in the media showing there could be a resurgence in cases so we have to be careful on those grounds.”