Police in New South Wales, Australia, have launched a criminal investigation into the situation surrounding the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which has been linked to a significant coronavirus outbreak in the region.
The ship, which is operated by Princess Cruises, itself a subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation, is believed to be the epicenter of an outbreak linked to at least 662 cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths as of Sunday, The Guardian reported.
Over the weekend, New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller announced a probe to “investigate the circumstances” surrounding the ship’s docking in Sydney on March 19.
“The key question that remains unanswered… was Carnival, or crew, transparent in contextualizing the true patient/crew health conditions relevant to COVID-19?” he stated during a press briefing.
In the weeks that followed the ship’s docking in Sydney, controversy has ignited over the ship’s subsequent disembarkation of nearly 2,700 passengers. NSW Health said at the time that about a dozen passengers had felt unwell and been tested for COVID-19 — though other passengers were not alerted of this update, ultimately departing the ship without screening and traveling home.
“There is clear evidence that [COVID-19] has been brought off that ship,” Fuller said during the briefing. “There’s clear evidence now that when it stopped in New Zealand, that [COVID-19] has come off that ship.”
“The only way I can get to the bottom of whether our national bio-security laws and our state laws have been broken is through a criminal investigation,” he added.
In response to a reporter’s question about whether he suspected Carnival downplayed the symptoms of passengers and crew prior to docking, Fuller said, “We will only know by getting the ship’s records, the records from the doctors,” and the accounts of passengers on the ship.
A representative for Carnival was said it would “vigorously respond” to the probe in a statement shared with Fox News.
We have seen the Police Commissioner’s announcement. 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,” reads the statement.
The Ruby Princess originally departed from Sydney on March 8 for an 11-day cruise, returning to Sydney on March 19. Passengers disembarked, but 1,000-plus crew members remained onboard to self-isolate. The ship is currently docked at Port Kembia, New South Wales, for refueling and restocking.