Infected cruise ships told to 'go home' amid dire fears for local health system

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

The message from NSW Police to nine cruise ships either docked or waiting in NSW waters amid the coronavirus pandemic is clear amid fears their passengers could ‘flood’ the state’s health system.

“It’s time to go to your port of origin,” Police Commissioner Mick Fuller instructed on Tuesday.

Among the vessels being refused the opportunity to disembark those on board is the Ruby Princess, which after being allowed to release thousands of passengers despite awaiting COVID-19 test results for four people, now holds its ailing workforce plagued by the virus in the ship anchored off Botany Bay.

In a colossal oversight, it turns out large swathes of passengers were infected, with to date 211 confirmed cases linked to the Ruby Princess across Australia.

Coronavirus live blog: Latest news and updates from Australia

Passengers disembark from the Ruby Princess before it was revealed some on board had coronavirus. Source: AAP

Now there are strong fears accepting ill patients from any ship on mass could overwhelm NSW’s health system.

The NSW government is taking a hard line on cruise ships, refusing to allow those on board to disembark to protect the state which is by far the worst hit in Australia with over 2000 confirmed cases.

“There are thousands of people, potentially, in cruise ships off our coasts that aren’t members of our state and if we take them in, then that could well flood our system unnecessarily,” Commissioner Fuller said.

"All the hard work we've done could be over.”

Nine people have died across Australia after being infected on cruise ships, including five from the Ruby Princess.

NSW has already accepted six crew members from the Ruby Princess after they fell seriously ill in the past few days, however NSW Police are now instructing the vessel, like all others in a state of limbo, to seek medical attention elsewhere.

Calls for humanitarian response

Yet the Ruby Princess cruise ship's operator is urging the NSW government to adopt a humanitarian approach to its crew members who are ill with COVID-19.

Carnival Australia says it is not safe for the ship to sail away from Australia while there are ill crew members on board. 

Crew members were removed from the Ruby Princess after falling seriously ill. Source: ABC

"While illness on board has been reduced due to strong health management, the ship needs to remain within reach of Australia to access healthcare services if an urgent need arises," the company said in a statement. 

Carnival said it is currently "in high-level federal and state discussions with the aim of enabling the repatriation on compassionate and humanitarian grounds".

There are 1100 crew on the Ruby Princess from 51 countries.

The company argues while the ship is registered in Bermuda, its home port is effectively Sydney given it was here on a six-month cruise season.

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