Australian Border Force received a phone call from a worried NSW Port Authority prior to the ill-fated Ruby Princess docking in Sydney and disembarking thousands of passengers despite awaiting coronavirus test results.
The state’s port authority contacted the ABF hours before the vessel was due to arrive into Sydney Harbour on March 19 and said it had “concern in relation to the health of the passengers”.
Yet following enquiries from an ABF officer, the NSW Port Authority was advised the vessel had been cleared by NSW Health, the ABF said in a statement on Wednesday.
The concern from the harbourmaster was so severe, they were willing to stop the cruise ship at Sydney Harbour’s Bradley Head, roughly four kilometres from the cruise terminal in Circular Quay, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The saga has developed into an ugly back-and-forth between the ABF and state government officials, attempting to shift the blame for the colossal oversight that allowed hundreds of passengers who later tested positive for coronavirus off the ship.
There are 15 deaths from coronavirus linked to the vessel.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told her MPs recently that NSW Health or the state government were not responsible and that the ABF had wrongly told NSW Health the ship was deemed “low-risk” prior to docking.
Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram stressed however days after the incident that NSW Health failed by not conducting tests on the vessel before awaiting results.
In Wednesday’s statement, the ABF said it “did not seek to shape or influence any view or decision by the NSW Port Authority”.
“This is not the ABF’s role,” the statement said.
As previously stressed by Mr Outram as the ABF’s only role in the matter, the statement went on to say the ABF “completed its immigration and customs clearance functions”.
The statement finished by indicating the only role the ABF played was confirming during the federal government’s 30-day ban on cruise ships that those vessels already at sea had been given provision by the government to continue their journey back to Australia.
Detectives raid coronavirus-hit vessel
The ABF’s statement comes as NSW detectives raided the Ruby Princess cruise ship to seize evidence and question crew members about the docking and disembarkation of passengers.
NSW detectives wearing personal protective equipment boarded the vessel at Port Kembla on Wednesday night to gather evidence about how hundreds of passengers aboard were allowed to leave the ship on March 19.
"Strike Force Bast investigators are conducting inquiries on-board the Ruby Princess this evening," NSW Police said in a statement.
"The operation is being conducted under the strictest health and workplace safety guidelines."
In coming days police will interview other high-priority witnesses about the scandal, while the vessel is expected to remain at Port Kembla for 10 days with 1040 crew members undergoing medical assessments.
About 200 crew have shown symptoms of coronavirus, while 18 crew have so far tested positive.
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