Australians may never know who is to blame for the Ruby Princess fiasco at the end of a criminal investigation which could take at least 18 months to reach open court.
The New South Wales state government has ordered a criminal inquiry into why 2,700 people were allowed to leave the coronavirus-ridden cruise ship on March 19.
The family of grandmother Janet Lieben, from NSW, are also calling for justice after she became one of the 12 passengers on board to die from the virus.
She is among 612 from the ship to contract COVID-19.
But revelations from a police investigation may be kept secret unless an individual has criminal charges laid against them.
Jerry Lieben is calling for justice for his wife, Janet, (pictured together) after she became one of the 12 passengers from the ill-fated Ruby Princess to contract the coronavirus
The Ruby Princess, with only crew onboard, docks at Port Kembla south of Sydney to refuel and for staff to be tested for COVID-19. The result of a criminal investigation into its docking in Sydney Harbour on March 19 be kept secret unless an individual faces criminal charges
Even if someone faces charges only a reduced amount of evidence will be made publicly available in open court, The Australian reported.
New jury trials from March 16 have been suspended – adding to a backlog of cases scheduled to go before the courts – meaning the Ruby Princess case may not be heard until late 2021.
The investigation, announced by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller on Sunday, may be given special funding by the state government because of the scale on the inquiries needed.
Commissioner Fuller said in the weekend press conference the investigation would seek to uncover whether any breaches of the Biosecurity Act and NSW laws had been made.
Interviewing many of the 4,000 passengers, the ship’s captain, crew members and staff from government agencies will likely form a large part of the investigation.
NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay last week called for ‘an independent inquiry with Royal Commission powers’ into the ship’s docking in Sydney Harbour.
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
It comes after Jerry Lieben and his wife, Janet, both developed symptoms of the deadly respiratory infection on the Ruby Princess just one day after they were allowed to disembark the ship.
Mr Lieben told A Current Affair on Monday night someone needed to be held accountable for the debacle.
‘Why did they put us on the ship?’ he asked. ‘Why did they let us board? There must have been red flags,’ he said.
He claims the ship was under lockdown and their boarding time on March 8 was delayed – and not enough was done to ensure they were healthy when they disembarked after the trip to New Zealand.
Jerry (pictured, left) and Janet Lieben (right) had been enjoying a special 11-day cruise with old army friends around New Zealand on the doomed Ruby Princess
The now widowed great-great-grandfather also recalled his last conversation with his wife, telling her he loved her while she was fighting for life in a hospital bed.
‘I was in the room next to her, I managed to see her before she died. But it was too rough of her on her breathing so I had to leave,’ he said while tears streamed down his face.
‘She was really getting upset, I combed her hair and told her I loved her and left the room and that’s the last I seen her.’
There is ‘clear evidence’ COVID-19 has come off the Ruby Princess (pictured off coast of Sydney on Sunday) and at least 12 passengers have died in Australia because of it
Ruby Princess is pictured docked at Circular Quay as passengers disembarked in Sydney on March 19
He said while he initially felt nothing but pain and sorrow over the loss of the love of his life, grief has now turned to anger.
‘After what happened, I just think I need justice for my beautiful wife, because none of this should have happened,’ he said.
The couple returned to Sydney Harbour from the trip of a lifetime on March 19, and had heard whispers of respiratory infections on board.
So they were shocked at the ease in which they disembarked the ship.
‘When it was our turn to leave, we said ”ah well, we’re going to get checked”, but nothing happened… We collected our luggage, but nothing got checked.’
Mr Lieben said they were handed a form asking them to self isolate at home for 12 days, but that there were no checkpoints to ensure they were of good health before making the trip home to central New South Wales.
The couple began developing COVID-19 symptoms the day after returning home from the cruise
So far, at least 5,795 people in Australia have been infected with coronavirus, including 41 people who have died
Mr Lieben said he wants justice for his wife and doesn’t believe they should have been allowed to board the ship
Within 24 hours of arriving home, the pair knew something wasn’t right.
They called Orange Hospital and were asked to visit the facility for a COVID-19 test. Both results returned a positive reading.
Despite their age, the pair continued to quarantine at home before Mr Lieben experienced a nasty fall. Both were rushed to hospital, and Ms Lieben’s condition deteriorated.
Janet Lieben (pictured) with her beloved dog Benny. The doting great, great grandmother died after suffering complications from COVID-19
Mr Lieben has opted against a funeral for his wife because nobody – not even himself – would be able to attend.
He is still quarantined and showing symptoms of coronavirus and has been granted daily 15-minute visits with his son to provide him care.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 5,849
New South Wales: 2,686
Western Australia: 460
South Australia: 411
Australian Capital Territory: 96
Northern Territory: 28
TOTAL CASES: 5,849
The army veteran made the difficult decision to cremate his wife’s body, and will celebrate her life with a memorial ‘once this is all over,’ he said.
On Sunday, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller confirmed a criminal investigation will look into the handling of the fiasco.
The commissioner said it was ‘too early to tell’ whether a crime was committed, but said there was ‘no doubt’ coronavirus was brought off the ship.
The investigation – led by the NSW police homicide squad – aims to identity how passengers were allowed to disembark the Ruby Princess in Sydney, resulting in several deaths and COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the country.
‘The only way I can get to the bottom of whether our national biosecurity laws and our state laws were broken is through a criminal investigation,’ Mr Fuller said.
He told reporters transparency regarding patient health on board the cruise ship was a key question for the investigation.
How a midnight phone call that led to coronavirus-stricken Ruby Princess cruise being able to dock in Sydney Harbour in the dark
The doomed Ruby Princess cruise ship was set to be stopped from entering Sydney Harbour until a last minute backflip by port authorities, leaked phone calls reveal.
A total of 2,700 passengers – ten of who have since died from coronavirus – were able to disembark without health checks under the cover of darkness at 2.30am on March 19.
More than 620 of the ship’s passengers have since been confirmed to have the virus.
But explosive phone calls between Ruby Princess officials, NSW Port Authorities and NSW Ambulance officers, who were called to help ill passengers, reveal the debacle could have easily been avoided.
In fact the NSW Port Authority initially told the ship’s captain not to dock as planned because of concerns passengers had COVID-19, before a midnight phone call that changed everything, The Sunday Telegraph reports.
Logs from that night by NSW Port Authority officials – who oversee the entrance of all ships to Sydney Harbour – reveal they refused the Ruby Princess entry about 11.30pm on March 18.
That decision was made after emails between the ship’s doctor and NSW Health that outlined concerns over 110 sick passengers onboard.
Among the sick were 17 with ‘temperatures over 38C’ and six who had ‘muscle aches and diarrhoea, severe vomiting or headaches’ – all common coronavirus symptoms.
In a conversation between a Ruby Princess official and a NSW Ambulance officer just before 9pm that night, it is clear there were concerns that some passengers may be suffering from the virus.
The cruise official requested two ambulances upon docking.
It came two days after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a 30-day ban on all cruise ships arriving in Australia.
But the harbour master reversed the decision just an hour later.
Despite being expected to dock at 6am the next morning, the ship arrived at port at 2.30am.
It led to confusion among two ambulance officers who were called to tend to the ill Ruby Princess passengers.
In another explosive phone call the two officers debated the competing advice they had received from Ruby Princess officials as to whether passengers were suspected of having the virus and whether tests had come back negative.
When the Ruby Princess left Sydney Harbour for a trip to New Zealand it was seen to be a medium risk of having coronavirus passengers.
By the time it was halfway through the trip, that ranking had somehow been reduced to low risk – a decision that was defended by NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant.
NSW Police have since launched an investigation into the handling of Ruby Princess’ arrival in Sydney.