One seafarer dead, 12 hospitalised, and 281 infected on cruise ships in Australian waters

Artania cruise vessel. Credit: HASENPUSCH. DIETMAR

A 42-year-old Filipino seafarer from the Artania cruise ship in the port of Fremantle has died of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). State health authorities put the unnamed seafarer in contact with his family before he passed away in a Perth hospital on 16 March.

The ship’s master, Morten Hansen, told local radio that the man suffered other health conditions, “It’s always heartbreaking,” he said. “[He] has been with the company since 2006”. Another 79 crew have tested positive for the virus.

Artania departed from Fremantle to the port of Benoa in Bali, Indonesia, with 411 passengers and crew on board. It will then head for its home port in Germany.

Meanwhile, on Australia’s eastern coast, 202 of the more than 1,000 mainly Filipino crew on board the ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise ship in Port Kembla have tested positive to the virus, according to state health authorities, and 12 people are in the hospital.

The ship was due to depart to the Philippines, but allowed to stay after a public outcry and representations by unions to ensure all crew were tested and treated.

“It would be a death sentence for some crew if the ship sailed,” Dean Summers, Australia co-ordinator of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, told local media. “They’d start stacking up the bodies in the ship’s freezer. You can’t get medical evacuations that far out at sea.”

Unions are calling for the ship to remain in port until all sick crew are treated, healthy crew repatriated, and the ship professionally cleaned. New crew joining the ship should also be tested.

The ship is subject to one state government inquiry in Australia, a police criminal investigation, and a call for a royal commission federally, after 21 passengers who disembarked from the vessel in Sydney on 19 March died from the virus, with 845 testing positive.

Passengers and family have launched legal action against the company claiming management knew the ship was contaminated when new travellers boarded the vessel on 8 March.

A spokesperson for Princess Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival, told SAS the company wanted the ship to remain in Australia until the health status of the crew could be stabilised. “This has been achieved in combination with the government agencies and Aspen Medical,” he said.

“The health and welfare of the crew remains our priority and we’re participating actively in arrangements for their repatriation as well as determining staffing requirements for the safe operation of the ship once it sails,” he added. That could be as early as 23 April.