A health questionnaire had to be completed for each passenger before boarding. As the crew scanned piles of paper, they had to warn some international passengers that they could not see the fjords or mountains of New Zealand.
“We knew that before we started, things were serious,” Hunt said in an interview.
At the time, the pre-selection procedures seemed a necessary, albeit tedious, precaution. In retrospect, they seem to be woefully inadequate.
Fifteen Ruby Princess passengers died and some 660 people were infected, on board or by people who were infected, making it the most deadly known epidemic of all cruise ships and the single largest contributor to cases in Australia.
Australian police have assembled a team of 30 people led by a homicide detective to investigate the ship and its owner, the Miami Carnival, the world’s largest vacation travel company.
Detectives in protective clothing from head to toe on Thursday seized evidence from the ship, including the voyage data recorder which records the conversations on deck.
Some on board say that, despite an awareness of the virus sweeping the world, little effort has been made to separate the passengers and that medical checks have been insufficient.
When Kiri-Lee Ryder, 41, complained one day at 1 a.m. to the ship’s medical team that she was suffering from severe body aches and headaches, she received headache pills and cough medicine, according to his mother, Carlene Brown. She was also charged with approximately $ 300.
A week later, the Australian mother of three was diagnosed with covid-19. Ryder spent more than two weeks in intensive care, much of it in an induced coma. Before sinking, she phoned her children and her parish mother, who had banned all visitors.
“It’s silly, but she calls me mom and she just said, ‘They’re going to put me to sleep,'” Brown said in an interview. “And she meant that she loved us. You could hear the struggle to breathe in his voice.
“I said,” We love you darling, and we’ll see you when you wake up. “”
Hunt, whose mother and stepfather were infected, said she blamed her fellow travelers, many of whom did not realize they could spread the virus without showing symptoms.
“People were selfish and thought they were safe on a boat,” she said. “I sneezed people all over me. I had people crowding in elevators that were already too full.
“At the end of the day, we knew what was going on in the world. We knew how quickly it spread in ships. People didn’t care. ”
A spokesperson for Princess Cruises said that anyone with symptoms of covid-19 or who had been in contact with an infected person was not allowed on board and that the crew members had been tested by health officials. before the ship’s departure.
“So there was no reason to believe there was Covid-19 on the ship,” he said.
At the time, cruise ships around the world had not conducted covid-19 tests on board, but had to provide swabs to health officials for shore tests, he added.
The Ruby Princess returned to Sydney on March 19, three days earlier. The passengers were told they would be screened by state health officials, said Hunt. Instead, they received a brochure explaining how to isolate themselves for two weeks.
Many were unable to return home immediately. About a third came from the United States or Europe. Ryder and his family spent two days in a hotel, then took a five-hour commercial flight to Perth.
It took five days after disembarking for the first passenger to die. Another who followed was Karla Lake, 75, whose husband Graeme Lake accused Carnival of making the passengers believe that they were not in danger.
“They made a point of not letting anyone know that someone was sick,” he told Australian television station Seven. “Good as gold, we thought it was good. “
Events on the Ruby Princess have destroyed Australia’s otherwise effective response to the pandemic. About 50 people have died, out of a population of 25 million, and known infections are growing at less than 2% per day.
Federal and state officials have blamed allowing the Ruby Princess to disembark passengers. The final decision was made by the Australian Border Force; he said he acted on the advice of the New South Wales state health department, which decided that the passengers could be released before the testing of 13 sick people was completed. Four returned positive a day later.
Australian officials knew that cruise ships were powerful incubators of the coronavirus. The first Australian death was from a passenger on another Carnival ship, the Diamond Princess, where 12 passengers died in a 19-year epidemic that at one time had more than half of the world’s cases outside the China.
The state’s chief medical officer said the ship was identified as having a low risk of carrying the virus. The only other country visited was New Zealand, which did not have many cases.
“You may have laws, directives, practices and procedures in place, but if people from any agency are not 100% vigilant for whatever reason, then it can all go very wrong.” said David Widdowson, an Australian academic who is president. of the International Network of Customs Universities.
Brown, who has advocated for social distancing, said that her sick daughter, husband and grandson should have received medical treatment as soon as they left the ship.
“I am absolutely disgusted,” she said. “If you work as a border, customs or immigration worker and someone passes with a mask from a ship potentially carrying sick people, don’t ask yourself:” Why are you wearing the mask? Why are you not well on the ship? »»
A law firm is organizing a class action against Carnival, whose share price has dropped about 75% this year. One of the priorities is whether the Ruby Princess should have been properly sterilized before leaving Sydney.
“We have serious doubts if they had enough time to properly clean the ship during those hours,” said Vicky Antzoulatos, head of the class action division of Shine Lawyers.
The Ruby Princess is now quarantined in an industrial port south of Sydney. About a quarter of the 1,148 crew members want to leave immediately, according to state police chief Mick Fuller. Australian authorities are wary of letting everything go except the most seriously ill.
A State Department spokesman said the US government was helping the Americans on board, but would not provide any further details.
Six other cruise ships off the Australian coast returning to Asia have been informed by the Governor of the State of Western Australia that they are not welcome and should not stop for supplies.