Criminal investigation launched into Ruby Princess debacle
NSW Police will launch an investigation into how the Ruby Princess cruise ship was allowed to let thousands of passengers disembark and expose the nation to the deadly coronavirus.
NSW Port Authority officials had initially denied the ship permission to dock on March 18 following a call from a senior ambulance officer that some passengers on board were displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
But frantic communications between the ship's operator Carnival and NSW authorities ultimately saw the 2700 passengers disembark in Sydney Harbour the next morning.
Hundreds of infections and multiple deaths, now linked to the ship nationwide, set off a political blame game between Carnival and the NSW and Commonwealth governments.
This week NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller was given the task of getting to the bottom of the matter, Sky News reported on Sunday.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Sunday defended his department's experts, who are believed to have green-lit the ship's landing.
"They are extraordinary people who have kept our state safe for years through checking on these cruise ships as they come in and out," he said.
Mr Hazzard, despite mounting pressure over his department's role in the Ruby Princess saga, said he was not concerned about the criminal investigation.
"What I have concerns about is that I hope that obviously the commissioner is able to get to the bottom of it," he said.
As he spoke it was revealed four more people in NSW had died of COVID-19 and three of them were linked to the ship.
"It's believed the initial inquiries by the commissioner will now become a criminal investigation, the details of which will be announced later today."
Commissioner Fuller will address the media at 3pm on Sunday in Sydney, where he is expected to formally announce the probe.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL BACKS ABF
Australian Border Force's account of how NSW Health gave the final green light to allow the Ruby Princess cruise ship to disembark in Sydney is "utterly persuasive" according to the Attorney-General.
Christian Porter said while he had not gone through a "PhD analysis" of whether the NSW Government, ABF or the Carnival cruise company was most at fault for allowing the coronavirus-riddled passengers to disembark, he believed Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram.
"I found Mike Outram's explanation of the timing of events and the bearing of responsibility to be utterly persuasive," he said.
"So anyone who wants an answer as to responsibility for what occurred I think would do no better than listen to Mike Outram's account."
Mr Porter said he thought the NSW Police investigation into the matter "makes sense".
Last month Mr Outram provided a public run down of the days leading up to the Ruby Princess disembarking, and while he refused to "apportion blame" emphasised the ABF only had oversight of immigration and customs, not health.
Mr Outram said after hearing criticisms of ABF officers, he believed it was important to "clarify some actual facts" about how passengers were allowed off the ship.
"I've got no information in front of me, factual information at all that says my officers did not equip their responsibilities under the customs … (or) immigration acts," he said.
"We in the Border Force do not have expertise in health or in biosecurity."
Mr Outram said on March 17 NSW Health requested information from the Ruby Princess' senior doctor including all passengers and crew with fever or acute respiratory symptoms, travel histories and if tests were conducted and results.
"They requested that any passengers or crew with flu like illnesses were isolated and provided with hand rubs and masks," he said.
"On March 18, at 9:39am the senior doctor on the Ruby Princess notified the Health Department with the following, they had collected viral swabs for a few cases of febrile influenza, negative test, and that those people had been isolated."
Mr Outram said on March 18 the Ruby Princess was told a NSW Health panel had assessed the ship as "not requiring on-board health assessment in Sydney".
"NSW Health stated to the Ruby Princess, 'you are free to disembark tomorrow'," he said.
"However, in accordance with the Australian government guidance, all passengers must go into self isolation for 14 days."
Mr Outram said despite the NSW Health ruling that the Ruby Princess was "low risk" his six officers wore masks and gloves when conducting their customs and immigration checks.
"There were number of passengers in their cabins," he said.
"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.
"As a result of that information, all of the passengers were given a green light to disembark."
Mr Outram refused to specifically blame NSW Health for the failure, but said ABF did not have responsibility for conducting or facilitating health checks.
"People can then make their own minds up about what happened in respect of the Ruby Princess," he said.
Originally published as Criminal probe confirmed into passengers leaving Ruby Princess