Ruby Princess sails out of Australian troubled waters

Location of Ruby Princess cruise ship off the coast of Australia. Credit: IHS Markit AISLive Ship Tracking portal

Carnival passenger ship Ruby Princess is currently on its way to the Philippines today, after five weeks in the Australian media spotlight.

Due to political and union pressures, all crew on board the vessel were tested for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Port Kembla, Wollongong. At last count, 190 of the more than 1,000 crew had contracted the virus, 33 were hospitalised in Australia. No crew who tested positive remain on the vessel.

However, some crew members from India, Indonesia, Peru, and South Africa told UK politician Jodi McKay that they felt they were “left totally in the dark” and “not given the option to leave”. Some said they feared for their health on the voyage ahead.

Passengers who had previously disembarked from Ruby Princess now account for one in 10 COVID-19 cases in Australia and 21 deaths. A further 35 passengers outside Australia have also tested positive, and two have died.

Why the ship was allowed to disembark passengers on 19 March in Sydney Harbour, before the test results for 100 passengers with virus symptoms who were isolating in their cabins, is now subject to a state homicide squad investigation and a special commission of inquiry.

Police told media that over three days prior to the vessel’s departure, a total of 542 crew were repatriated to their home countries of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States by charter flights.

Despite their own illness and worries, the Ruby Princess crew started a GoFundMe page to give back to the local homeless people, according to the Illawarra Mercury daily.

Tugs in Port Kembla gave the vessel a ceremonial water cannon salute, a maritime symbol of respect and honour for their fellow seafarers on 23 April, as they guided the vessel out of the harbour at dusk.

According to the IHS Markit AISLive Ship Tracking portal, Ruby Princess is now off Australia’s Queensland coast and is estimated to arrive in Luzon on 5 May.