Humanitarian call to repatriate Ruby crew

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has told foreign cruise ships to go home.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has told foreign cruise ships to go home.

Police are urging foreign cruise ships floating off the NSW coast to immediately sail home rather than risk flooding the state's hospitals with coronavirus patients.

But the operator of the most well-known vessel - the Ruby Princess - says the government needs to adopt a humanitarian approach and enable the company to repatriate the foreign crew.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller on Tuesday revealed there were nine cruise ships either docked in NSW or waiting off the coast.

"There are thousands of people, potentially, in cruise ships off our coasts that aren't members of our state and if we take them in, then that could well flood our system unnecessarily," Mr Fuller said.

"All the hard work we've done could be over. We will continue to allow them to have fuel and food ... but it is time to go to your port of origin."

Carnival Australia, however, says the crew on board the Bermuda-flagged Ruby Princess need to be repatriated "on compassionate and humanitarian grounds".

"It is not safe for the ship to sail away from Australia while there are crew members on board who are ill," the company said in a statement.

"While illness on board has been reduced due to strong health management, the ship needs to remain within reach of Australia to access healthcare services if an urgent need arises."

There are 1100 crew on the Ruby Princess from 51 countries. The company argues while the ship is registered in Bermuda, its home port is effectively Sydney given it was here on a six-month cruise season.

Carnival wouldn't be drawn on whether the crew would be flown home but stated it was "in high-level federal and state discussions with the aim of enabling the repatriation".

There are 324 coronavirus infections in NSW linked to cruise ships, including 211 cases from the Ruby Princess and 79 from the Ovation of the Seas.

The Ruby Princess has become a major source of COVID-19 spread in Australia after infected passengers were allowed to disembark without adequate checks.

Three of its crew with severe symptoms were taken to hospital on Sunday night and another three crew were ferried to hospital on Monday night.

Six people from the Radiance of the Seas were transferred to shore on Monday afternoon.

Mr Fuller said NSW will continue to let people disembark cruise ships on humanitarian grounds, such as two pregnant women who asked to come ashore.

"We've had requests for two ladies to leave two different ships who were pregnant, which I thought was absolutely appropriate," he said.

"We are receiving people sensibly back into NSW. They get the required health care, then go into mandatory isolation."

Following the Ruby Princess fiasco, NSW has banned all cruise ship passengers from disembarking until new protocols are in place.

Mr Fuller said no cruise passenger will enter NSW unless they have his personal approval.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in NSW reached 2032 on Tuesday. There have been eight deaths.

Australian Associated Press