Australia Launches Criminal Probe Into Cruise Ship COVID-19 Outbreak

Ruby Princess (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 04-06-2020 10:01:10

Australian authorities have launched a criminal investigation to determine who knew what and when aboard the cruise ship Ruby Princess, which became Australia's largest single source of COVID-19 cases when she discharged her passengers in Sydney last month. 

Over 360 COVID-19 cases have been linked to the ship, and 11 people have died - nearly a quarter of all Australian fatalities to date. Up to 200 out of the 1,000-plus crewmembers who are still on the ship are now displaying symptoms, according to officials. On Monday, the vessel berthed again near Sydney in order to take on more supplies and better enable care for sick crewmembers.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller announced the criminal probe on Sunday following an initial review for NSW's premier. The investigation is being led by NSW Homicide Squad’s Detective Chief Inspector Jason Dickinson, who is "experienced in complex and protracted investigations," Fuller's office said.

“I’ve examined a number of phone calls between NSW Ambulance, Port Authority of NSW and NSW Police that stemmed from the initial 17-minute Triple Zero call from the ship to NSW Ambulance on 18 March,” the Commissioner said. “There appears to have been an exceptional amount of effort put in by Ports to determine the true nature of the conditions on board – and even delayed the vessels arrival until they were provided additional information. After reviewing the information at hand, the only way I can determine whether our national biosecurity laws or our state laws were broken is through a criminal investigation.” 

Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter provided more details in a radio interview on Monday. "Of course, there's a whole range of offences, including civil fraud, that may have been possibly committed and that's what the investigation is about," said Porter, speaking to ABC Radio. "If those offenses can be substantiated by evidence then they would be very, very serious indeed."

The investigation will look at every entity involved in the voyage, including the cruise operator (Carnival Australia) and government regulators. NSW Police has called for anyone with relevant information from on board Ruby Princess to contact the agency's Crime Stoppers tip line. 

In a statement, Carnival Australia said that it would respond to any charges stemming from the inquiry. "In addition to willingly participating in the investigation, Carnival Australia will vigorously respond to any allegations of which there must now be full disclosure and the basis for them," a spokesman said in a statement.