The cruise industry now vies with travellers from Wuhan, China, for the spread of COVID-19 in Australia, with Australian police and Navy, today 31 March, ordering all ships ‘lingering on the coast’ to ‘go now’.
Six of eight cruise ships remain off the New South Wales (NSW) coast, including the Ruby Princess, have been ordered to leave Australian waters, while on the west coast Navy vessels have been deployed to turn back two cruise vessels.
Yesterday a police launch helped evacuate three seriously ill crew from the Ruby Princess so they could be hospitalised. Australian crew and two pregnant crew members were previously allowed ashore.
The Ruby Princess alone now accounts for 440 cases or one tenth, of all Australians testing positive to virus. The ship is responsible for five of 19 COVID-19 deaths in Australia. A further two people have died of the virus after returning from the Diamond Princess and the Celebrity Solstice.
NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller said he held an urgent phone hook-up today with Home Affairs, and Australian Border Force, to pressure the ships to sail.
“I’ve been sending clear messages,” he said. “It’s time to go back to your port of origin. It’s time to go home.”
The police commissioner said cruise ships do not pay taxes in Australia with most registered in the Caribbean and other islands. They should not ‘park’ their vessels here.
The remaining two international liners off Fremantle, Western Australia, have been in a standoff with Navy ships.
However more than 70 passengers were allowed to disembark from the Artania after showing signs of COVID-19.
Meanwhile the blame game over why passengers were allowed to freely disembark from the Ruby Princess and two other cruise ships in Sydney on 18 March without testing continues.
Paperwork from the Diamond Princess, was broadcast, claiming there was no illness on board. However in a statement on YouTube Ruby Princess senior vice president of operations Stuart Allison denied this. He said the ship had fully reported its health status using the official federal and state maritime reporting system.
“Ruby Princess was considered low risk for COVID-19 when she returned to Sydney,” he said. “We filled in all the paperwork and required guests with flu-like symptoms to self isolate in their cabins. The ship then reported these cases to authorities as we are obliged to do.”
He said testing was not conducted on the ship, as the protocol was for this to be done onshore by public health authorities.
“We are a company and an industry that does the right thing,” Allison said.
Princess Cruises announced a voluntary pause of global operations for 60 days on 12 March, however, the cruise industry is still highlighting upcoming tours. One cruise director on a Carnival ship off Wollongong has been posting happy group shots of crew on Facebook, while on land people are forced to self isolate and keep three metres apart, with police clearing beaches.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia spokesperson told SAS the company had teams of staff working day and night to disembark tens of thousands of passengers around the world.
“All scheduled passenger disembarkations in Australia have been completed and cruising operations suspended,” he said.
CLIA were now focused on the arrangements to repatriate crew to their homes and families. Ships will leave Australia as soon as practicably possible, and then would then be laid up with skeleton crews.