Virus-stricken cruise ship docks near Sydney

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The cruise liner Ruby Princess sits in the harbour in Port Kembla, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Sydney after coming in to refuel and restock

A cruise ship that has accounted for a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in Australia was allowed to dock near Sydney on Monday after 200 crew members began exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

The Ruby Princess berthed at Port Kembla, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Sydney, after weeks stranded at sea to allow doctors to assess sick crew members and take the most serious cases ashore for medical treatment.

The government last month allowed 2,700 passengers to walk off the Carnival Australia-owned vessel and return to their homes around the country -- despite a ban on cruise ships docking in Australia being announced just days earlier.

Hundreds of passengers were later diagnosed with coronavirus and at least 10 have died, accounting for a quarter of Australia's death toll of 40. The country has recorded almost 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

New South Wales police said the ship could remain at the port for up to 10 days to restock and refuel before departing Australian waters, but the crew would not be allowed to disembark unless it was an emergency.

"The berthing will be conducted under strict health and biosecurity guidelines and will not pose a risk to employees at the port or the broader community," police said in a statement.

Several crew members have already been taken to hospital in recent days.

Police have launched a criminal investigation into Carnival Australia over the circumstances that led to thousands of passengers disembarking in mid-March despite some exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

Police commissioner Mick Fuller said there were "unanswered questions" over whether Carnival had been transparent about passenger health and possibly breached biosecurity laws.

The cruise liner Ruby Princess sits in the harbour in Port Kembla, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Sydney after coming in to refuel and restock