At least 49 crew members from the Ruby Princess cruise ship have disembarked after spending more than two weeks docked at a pier in Port Kembla, New South Wales.
Of the 49 crew members, one has tested positive for the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, and will be quarantined in an NSW Health managed hotel for 14 days. The remaining 48 crew have tested negative, and arrangements are being made for their flights home.
Most of the crew have remained in isolation on the ship while 202 crew on board have tested positive for the CCP virus, reported 7 news.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the health and safety of crew and the wider community would remain the priority during the repatriation process.
“The movement of the first crew contingent today is an important milestone, and has us one step closer to the Ruby Princess leaving Australian waters,” Fuller said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Today’s operation is the culmination of a significant joint effort by a number of agencies, and that effort will continue until we have ensured the safety and movement of every crew member, in line with their wishes.”
Fuller is reported to have spent weeks negotiating with foreign consulates to ensure the repatriation of the crew members from Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Britain, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
More crew members are expected to disembark in the coming days, NSW police said, and around half of the 1000 people who remain on board are expected to stay on the ship until its return to the Philippines.
Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said the ship was on track for a Thursday departure.
The Source For One-Third of Australia’s Cases
The Ruby Princess has been linked to at least 21 deaths, and around 900 CCP virus cases across Australia after thousands of passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney on March 19.
An inquiry was launched on April 15 by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian into why passengers were allowed off the cruise ship without completing health checks.
“As I have said before, we will leave no stone unturned until we find out exactly what happened,” Berejiklian said at a press conference.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard had accused the Ruby Princess’s parent company, Princess Cruises, for not stopping the cruise when the pandemic was announced.
“Carnival let the cruise continue even after the pandemic declaration … for another eight days. That has proved to be a very unfortunate decision,” Hazzard told The Australian.
“Every day that cruise continued around New Zealand and in international waters has obviously had extremely unfortunate opportunities for the virus to spread.”
Speaking to Nine news on April 21, Jan Swartz, the global head of Princess Cruises said she would cooperate with the NSW Police investigation into the cruise ship and offered support for the families of those who have died.
“They are all in our hearts and thoughts as this virus has impacted so many of our guests and crews in terrible ways,” Swartz said.
Swartz added that the company would offer counseling to everyone on board, as well as provide full refunds to any passengers on the affected Ruby Princess voyage.
Epoch Times reporter Alex Joseph and The Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.