Ruby Princess report handed to NSW govt

A special commission of inquiry’s report into the ill-fated disembarkation of the Ruby Princess cruise ship is set to be handed to the NSW government.

The Ruby Princess, which docked at Sydney’s Circular Quay on March 19, has been linked to hundreds of cases and more than 20 coronavirus-related deaths across Australia.

The ship – which was low on medical supplies and swabs for on-board COVID-19 tests due to shortages – left Sydney on March 8 for New Zealand and returned 11 days later.

Despite the respiratory symptoms of numerous Ruby Princess passengers and the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 test results, 2700 passengers were permitted to disembark as the voyage had been deemed “low risk” by NSW health authorities.

This is because only 0.94 per cent of people on board presented to the ship’s medical centre with flu-like symptoms – not the one per cent required to mandate NSW Health intervention – and none had visited virus-hit countries China, Italy, Iran or South Korea.

Passengers disembarked before the results of 13 expedited COVID-19 tests were known – which would later show at least three people had the virus.

Hundreds of virus-affected Ruby Princess crew members were then stranded off the coast of southern NSW before the ship departed for the Philippines in late April.

Bret Walker SC was tasked with examining the ship’s departure, arrival and disembarkation and conducted 21 days of hearings from April to July.

He looked at the actions of Ruby Princess crew and ship operator Princess Cruises, as well as NSW Health, NSW Police and federal border and agriculture authorities.

Mr Walker will on Friday submit his report to Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Governor Margaret Beazley, with the government to have final say on its date of publication.

Separate NSW police and coronial inquiries into the Ruby Princess remain underway and are not expected to report back for at least another month.

Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham on Friday said there will be many lessons learnt from the inquiry report.

“We’re making sure there is cooperation with that inquiry and everyone wants to make sure that lessons out of this pandemic are learned for the future,” he told ABC News on Friday.

“We will make sure we deal with recommendations when we see them and deal with them appropriately.”

Federal Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally on Thursday lashed the federal government for what she saw as a failure to cooperate with Mr Walker’s inquiry. Federal officials were not permitted to testify in person.

“It was the cause of our biggest outbreak until we had this wave in Victoria and the reality is when it comes to accountability, this prime minister is nowhere to be seen, he’s pointing the fingers at other people, ducking the responsibility,” Senator Keneally told Sky News.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously denied being uncooperative, saying “we would cooperate with the inquiry as we have with other inquiries”.

© AAP 2020