Investigators tasked with delving into the Ruby Princess fiasco will be given unprecedented powers as part of a special commission.
Thousands of passengers from the coronavirus-infected ship were allowed to disembark in Sydney with no medical checks on March 19.
New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian vowed to leave ‘no stone unturned’ in the inquiry, surrounding the events which allowed the ship to dock unchecked.
After contracting the deadly COVID-19 onboard the doomed cruise liner, so far 18 passengers have died.
Many more have become infected after coming into contact with passengers, who were able to disembark with no medical checks and travel across Australia.
Around 700 of its passengers have since tested positive for COVID-19, with many more put at risk.
The Ruby Princess is seen docked at Port Kembla, 80km south of Sydney, on April 12 (pictured)
‘The inquiry will be led by eminent barrister Bret Walker SC,’ NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said..
‘He has unlimited powers and he can use those powers how he wants to use them.
‘That’s a matter for him.’
The report into the Ruby Princess will be delivered to state officials within four months.
‘I’m looking forward to that. Everybody wants answers, everybody wants to get to the bottom of that issue,’ she said.
‘It is important that answers are provided quickly for the people of NSW.
‘As I have said before, we will leave no stone unturned until we find out exactly what happened.’
Mr Walker will have the extraordinary powers of a special commissioner to examine all matters involving the cruise ship, including its departure and arrival, and the actions of all agencies and parties involved.
NSW Police are seen in front of the Ruby Princess in Port Kembla on Tuesday (pictured) after it launched its own criminal inquiry
‘Discussions with the police commissioner and the state coroner have made clear to me their expected investigation timelines, and I have decided that the quickest path to answers is through a powerful and independent inquiry,’ Ms Berejiklian said.
The police will continue their own criminal inquiry, and the coroner’s office will also continue its investigation.
The fiasco sparked a bitter blame game between NSW Health officials and the Border Force, who both said the other had given clearance for it to dock.
It was recently revealed that the Ruby Princess issued an urgent mayday call for an ambulance for two of its passengers presenting with coronavirus-like symptoms.
This was 24 hours before the ship was allowed to dock in Sydney, but it was still allowed to unload its passengers in Circular Quay.
Hundreds of holidaymakers can be seen crammed together applauding the staff from the gold-trimmed staircase on board the Ruby Princess, unaware of the fact coronavirus had already made its way onto the liner
The government had announced a 30-day ban on cruise arrivals just the day before.
Even the two Australian passengers who were presenting signs of ‘upper respiratory tract infections’ were allowed to leave the ship before their test results were known.
It comes after a shocking picture showed passengers crammed together on the ship, not knowing that coronavirus was spreading between them.
Hundreds of well-dressed passengers on board the luxury cruise are seen crammed together as they applaud staff.
There were unaware that coronavirus had already made its way onto the liner – likely through a crew member working in the kitchen – and was spreading like wildfire.
The luxury liner, which departed Sydney on March 8 and returned on March 19, is linked to 18 of Australia’s coronavirus deaths (pictured at Port Kembla on April 6)
An criminal investigation is now looking into how passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney (pictured, police in protective gear going onto the ship on April 8)
Despite the World Health Organisation declaring a pandemic just three days into the journey and encouraging social distancing to slow the spread of the illness, business carried on as usual on board.
Social distancing wasn’t being practiced and passengers claim they were free to mingle after completing a health questionnaire before they boarded.
This is despite it already being well known that people could carry and spread the disease without displaying symptoms.
A Princess Cruises spokesman said there was no reason to believe there was COVID-19 on the ship because anyone displaying symptoms was not allowed on board.
It also claimed crew members were tested by health authorities before the ship began its journey on March 8.
On Monday, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said a crew member serving food may have been responsible for the outbreak.
‘At this stage we would think that it was probably a crew member working in probably the galley, someone who is serving food, someone who would get across a number of passengers for it to spread like it has,’ he told reporters.
‘But again, that is not proven as fact yet, but that would seem to be the most obvious point of transmission is someone who is handling food on behalf of multiple hundreds of people.’
The coronial investigation was launched after passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney without adequate health checks on March 19 (pictured on April 6 in Port Kembla)
Fallout from the Ruby Princess debacle is continuing to be felt around Australia with two Tasmanian hospitals having to be shut down because of infections caused by passengers.
The Ruby Princess has been docked in Port Kembla, near Wollongong south of Sydney, for the investigation. About 1,000 crew members remain quarantined on the ship.
About 90 crew members have reported coronavirus-like symptoms, and 66 have tested positive for the illness.
Timeline of Ruby Princess fiasco
March 18: The Ruby Princess issues an urgent mayday call for an ambulance for two of its passengers presenting with coronavirus-like symptoms 24 hours before the ship is allowed to dock in Sydney.
March 19: The Ruby Princess arrives in Sydney Harbour. More than 2,700 guests are allowed to disembark without adequate health checks.
March 25: Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram says New South Wales Health is responsible for letting coronavirus patients disembark the ship.
March 29: Several crew members are evacuated and taken to hospital after being diagnosed with coronavirus.
April 2: A 66-year-old crew member is taken off the Ruby Princess for medical treatment. More than 200 crew members are sick and in self-isolation.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian defends the actions of NSW Health and the Australian Border Force and points the finger at the Ruby Princess. She claims staff onboard may have misled NSW Health about the extent of illnesses in passengers.
April 3: Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton alleges Ruby Princess’ operators weren’t transparent about the health of crew: ‘It was ‘clear that some of the companies have been lying about the health of passengers and crew on board’.
April 4: Leaked emails show NSW Health knew of the coronavirus risk on board the Ruby Princess before allowing its thousands of passengers to disembark.
April 5: A criminal investigation is launched into how passengers were able to disembark without health checks
April 8: A team of 30 detectives from state crime, counter terrorism and marine area command start investigating the handling of the Ruby Princess coronavirus scandal. The first briefing into the investigation is held.
April 9: NSW Police clad in PPE equipment raid the vessel, questioning its captain and searching for evidence in a rapid escalation of the criminal investigation.
April 11: NSW Health confirms that at least 46 crew members of the Ruby Princess cruise ship have contracted COVID-19
April 13: NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller says patient zero on board may have been a crew member serving meals to hundreds of passengers
April 15: NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian announces an independent special commission to investigate the Ruby Princess fiasco