News, Culture & Society

Teacher organises 1,200 care packages for Ruby Princess cruise ship

There has been unstoppable scrutiny of the Ruby Princess ship that docked in Sydney Harbour on March 19, and has since led to 600 COVID-19 infections and 21 deaths. 

Teacher Nicole Dillon has been watching the fiasco unfold from her home in Kiama, on the south coast of New South Wales, and felt bad about the negative attention the 1,100 crew members left on board were receiving.

‘Imagine them hearing that each day someone they spent time with and worked for on the ship has been infected, or died?’ the 54-year-old told FEMAIL. 

‘It must be devastating. And they are all isolating in separate rooms, with a lot of them probably not able to get the data or overseas access they need to check in on family all the time.

Teacher Nicole Dillon (right) has been watching the fiasco unfold from her home in Kiama, on the south coast of New South Wales (pictured with Alison Covington CEO and Founder of Good360, John Kewa from Mission to Seafarers and Paul Scully MP)

'Imagine them hearing that each day someone they spent time with and worked for on the ship has been infected, or died?' the 54-year-old told FEMAIL. 'It must be devastating'

‘Imagine them hearing that each day someone they spent time with and worked for on the ship has been infected, or died?’ the 54-year-old told FEMAIL. ‘It must be devastating’ 

‘It’s not their fault. Nobody willingly passes coronavirus on.’

With that in mind she wanted to make their time in Port Kembla in Wollongong, where the ship is currently docked, a little bit better with a care package.

Drawing on the same idea many Australians had during the bushfire season, Mrs Dillon looked to her community for support in getting the goods and personalised notes on board – and wasn’t disappointed.

‘Tourism Illawarra contacted me and asked how they could help. An amazing group of people came together, packed it up and got it all done in a few days,’ she said.

'Tourism Illawarra contacted me and asked how they could help. An amazing group of people came together, packed it up and got it all done in a few days,' she said

'I asked people to bring Australian-themed things like Tim Tams, Jumpys, Caramello Koalas, Vegemite,' she said

‘Tourism Illawarra contacted me and asked how they could help. An amazing group of people came together, packed it up and got it all done in a few days,’ she said

Plenty of people who dropped off food and beverages accompanied those with notes, while a school in Mrs Dillon's area organised for the children to draw pictures

Plenty of people who dropped off food and beverages accompanied those with notes, while a school in Mrs Dillon’s area organised for the children to draw pictures

‘I asked people to bring Australian-themed things like Tim Tams, Jumpys, Caramello Koalas, Vegemite – some people on the ship asked for Vegemite – and we did special bags for the four people who were vegetarian and one who was gluten free. 

‘Good Friday and Saturday we spent packaging, pick up of the boxes was on Tuesday and they were handed out on Wednesday.’

Plenty of people who dropped off food and beverages accompanied those with notes, while a school in Mrs Dillon’s area organised for the children to draw pictures.

She has even set up an email address (rubycrewletters@gmail.com) that strangers can write their letters of support to, and they are read out on the ship each evening.  

She has even set up an email address (rubycrewletters@gmail.com) that strangers can write their letters of support to, and they are read out on the ship each evening

She has even set up an email address (rubycrewletters@gmail.com) that strangers can write their letters of support to, and they are read out on the ship each evening

When Kollaras & Co were asked to support by donating pallets, boxes, a truck, and their help in coordinating the logistics of the initiative, they were only too happy to help

When Kollaras & Co were asked to support by donating pallets, boxes, a truck, and their help in coordinating the logistics of the initiative, they were only too happy to help

Georgia Kollaras from Kollaras & Co is the leading beverage supplier to the cruise industry worldwide, servicing brands like Royal Caribbean, P&O, Carnival, Cunard and Celebrity.

When Kollaras & Co were asked to support by donating pallets, boxes, a truck, and their help in coordinating the logistics of the initiative, they were only too happy to help.

‘After the announcement of a two to six month hiatus on cruises, our cruise channel was sadly decimated, and we therefore felt compelled to support those that have supported us over the years,’ Managing Director John Kollaras told FEMAIL. 

‘Although our contribution was minor in the grand scheme of things, we are a family business who appreciates how unsettled the crew must feel, being away from their own families during a dark time.

'Rough seas create great sailors, just like tough times build greater people, and we are with them every step of the way,' Managing Director John Kollaras told FEMAIL (the packages pictured)

‘Rough seas create great sailors, just like tough times build greater people, and we are with them every step of the way,’ Managing Director John Kollaras told FEMAIL (the packages pictured)

‘Therefore, although only a small token of our appreciation – we were humbled to be involved in what is hopefully a reminder to the crew that people truly care. 

‘Rough seas create great sailors, just like tough times build greater people, and we are with them every step of the way.’      

The Ruby Princess, which was supposed to set sail on Sunday, will stay docked in Australia until health authorities can work out how to get the crew safely home. 

About 1,100 crew members are still on board, 153 of whom have coronavirus, and rigorous medical checks have delayed its departure. 

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has been negotiating with the crew’s home countries for the past week about mass repatriation on chartered flights.

Ruby Princess (pictured on Sunday morning) is held in quarantine at Port Kembla in Wollongong until health officials work out how to get everyone home safely

Ruby Princess (pictured on Sunday morning) is held in quarantine at Port Kembla in Wollongong until health officials work out how to get everyone home safely

The Ruby Princess would then be sailed back to its port of origin by a skeleton crew, who are immune to the virus having already recovered from it.

An antibody test developed by Westmead Hospital in Sydney is being used to screen crew members for signs they once had coronavirus.

However, they are struggling to find enough of them to pilot the ship home, which is further delaying its departure.

All other cruise ships moored off NSW left earlier this month after crew were swapped between the vessels by police boats in the dead of night.

More than 600 infections and 21 deaths are linked to the Ruby Princess after almost 2,700 passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney Harbour on March 19.

The ship, currently being held in quarantine at Port Kembla, New South Wales, was supposed to set sail on Sunday under a police order 

Giselle O'Meara (pictured) is a performer on the Ruby Princess cruise ship and appealed for help with the deteriorating situation on board with 153 crew members infected

Giselle O’Meara (pictured) is a performer on the Ruby Princess cruise ship and appealed for help with the deteriorating situation on board with 153 crew members infected

No health checks were done on any of the passengers and many got on domestic flights or cross-state trains while unknowingly infected.

Coronavirus spread quickly and easily on board as passengers said they were not told it might be on board or that social distancing was necessary.

Photos also showed hundreds of passengers crowding together to applaud kitchen staff, and crew partying with passengers the day before it docked in Sydney. 

This was despite the crew taking dozens of swabs from passengers with flu-like symptoms to be tested after the ship returned to port. 

Three patients who died in Tasmania are believed to be the source of an outbreak that infected 45 medical staff and shut down two hospitals in Burnie last week.

Others had to be tracked down all over Australia and some even flew home overseas.

Passengers Steve Lazaru and Chung Chen, 64, died after returning to the U.S. and Mr Chen’s family is suing the ship’s operator Princess Cruises.  

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

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

NSW Police are conducting a homicide investigation into the fiasco, raiding the ship and surveying passengers on two recent cruises. 

They were asked whether they saw signs of anyone with coronavirus symptoms on board, about cleaning standards, and if they have videos from the voyage. 

Mr Fuller said his team had already identified the likely source of the virus on the ship. 

‘At this stage, we would think that it was probably a crew member working in the galley,’ he said earlier this week.

However, legal experts told Daily Mail Australia the investigation would not lead to any criminal charges and it was unclear why police were investigating at all.

There are three cruise ships in quarantine in Australian waters – the Ruby Princess, the Artania, and the Caledonian Sky.

Chung Chen, 64, died on April 4 in Los Angeles from COVID-19 after travelling on the Ruby Princess, which finished its voyage in Sydney. Pictured with his wife and daughter

Chung Chen, 64, died on April 4 in Los Angeles from COVID-19 after travelling on the Ruby Princess, which finished its voyage in Sydney. Pictured with his wife and daughter

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

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk