Almost 6000 to be quizzed in Ruby Princess inquiry
Detectives will send a survey to almost 6000 passengers from the last two voyages of the stricken Ruby Princess cruise ship so they can report any evidence of criminal negligence.
The ship has been linked to hundreds of COVID-19 cases and 19 deaths.
The announcement today draws the ship's previous voyage, from February 24 to March 8, squarely into the criminal investigation over how the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock and disembark in Sydney Harbour on March 19.
NSW Police assistant commissioner Stuart Smith said the survey had already gone to Ruby Princess crew still on board the ship docked at Port Kembla and would be sent to all passengers - 2647 from the first cruise and 2995 from the second cruise - around the world in coming days.
"Obviously what we're looking to do there is create a baseline from which we can assess what occurred on the second cruise," Mr Stuart said.
"They contain specific questions related to the passengers themselves.
"Obviously that goes hand-in-hand with the forensic examination of the telemetry box on the ship."
He said the investigation titled Strike Force Bast would "look at any act or any omission by any entity be it NSW or Commonwealth in relation to the decision making or the deficiencies thereof … they may be linked to a death as a result of COVID-19".
Mr Stuart said detectives were also approaching some crew members directly and getting huge amounts of data from the ship's owner Carnival.
"We served a coronial order, it is very detailed, it requires a significant amount of information to be provided. Each day we're getting downloads from Carnival cruises," he said.
Asked whether his detectives were looking for evidence the virus was on the ship before it left Sydney on March 8, Mr Stuart said "I'm not going to speculate on anything until the investigation uncovers that and the coroner makes a decision".
He said there were eight deaths connected to the ship in NSW, another 11 suspected of being connected and "indirect deaths" would also be investigated.
"Obviously the coroner has an interest in indirect deaths - so a passenger interacts with an individual that may have contracted COVID-19," Mr Stuart said.
COVID-9 TESTING OF CREW CONTINUES
Testing on board the Ruby Princess has been expanded, while transmission of COVID-19 on the ill-fated ship appears to have slowed, NSW Health has said.
On Thursday, 149 crew on the ill-fated cruise ship had contracted the deadly virus. A further 13 crew were being treated for the disease in onshore hospitals, NSW Health said.
In a statement to The Daily Telegraph, a spokesman failed to say how many of the more than 1000 crew have been tested for the virus, but said all remaining staff will be tested by the weekend.
"Crew members have been tested progressively, beginning with those who first developed symptoms. In order to gain a better understanding of whether crew were developing immunity, we have expanded testing," a spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.
The number of staff infected with the disease has been steadily increasing since it docked in Port Kembla. A NSW Health spokesman said the virus has been spreading on the vessel, but "this appears to have slowed".
On Wednesday, the operators of the vessel said the health situation on-board has "stabilised".
It's believed repatriation flights are being considered for some staff including those from the UK, the US, and Canada.
After declaring the Ruby Princess could be ordered to leave Port Kembla as early as Sunday, Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said no departure date has been locked in.
"Sunday is an aspirational sort of date at this stage, we haven't fixed a date," he said.
Mr Fuller said he has sought assurances from homicide investigators that they have collected all the evidence that they need from the ship, before it leaves Sydney.
Originally published as Almost 6000 to be quizzed in Ruby Princess inquiry