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Infamous cruise ship docks as nation's virus toll rises

National

The cruise ship Ruby Princess – linked to at least 11 of Australia’s 39 coronavirus deaths and more than 600 infections – has docked at a NSW port, as a criminal investigation begins into why more than 2000 passengers were allowed to disembark two weeks ago and help spread the disease nationwide.

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The ship docked at Port Kembla near Wollongong south of Sydney on Monday morning with 1040 crew on board, of which about 200 showing coronavirus symptoms will receive medical treatment.

The NSW Police homicide squad is now conducting a criminal investigation into the decision to let passengers off the ship when it docked in Sydney on March 19, before a number COVID-19 test results were known.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard is standing behind his staff who allowed passengers to leave despite knowing the results would be available within hours.

The police investigation will cover the actions of the port authority, ambulance, police, the NSW Health department and ship operator Carnival Australia.

“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,” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.

He said transparency regarding patient health on board the cruise ship was a key question for the investigation.

“From my perspective there are many unanswered questions,” he said.

“There seems to be absolute discrepancies between the information provided by Carnival and what I would see is the benchmark for the laws of the federal and state government.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter has backed the inquiry.

“Of course, there’s a whole range of offences, including civil fraud, that may have been possibly committed and that’s what the investigation is about,” he said.

“If those offences can be substantiated by evidence then they would be very, very serious indeed.”

Carnival Australia says the company is assisting the police investigation.

“In addition to willingly participating in the investigation, Carnival Australia will vigorously respond to any allegations of which there must now be full disclosure and the basis for them,” a spokesman said in a statement.

The ship is likely to remain docked for up to 10 days to refuel and restock before leaving Australian waters, but no crew will be disembarked unless in an emergency and approved by Fuller.

The Ruby Princess docked as NSW’s virus death toll climbed overnight to 18, with 2637 confirmed cases, while another two deaths were recorded in Victoria.

There were 5,692 cases in Australia on Monday morning.

 Ninety-one patients are in intensive care, with 33 on ventilators.

It’s estimated more than 2000 people have recovered, while 291,000 have been tested for the virus.

As lockdowns continue, Perth police arrested a man for allegedly breaching mandatory self isolation rules, and refused him bail on the basis he was likely to reoffend and place the public in danger.

The 35-year-old Victorian arrived in WA on March 28 and was provided a room at a Perth hotel to quarantine in, but police allege he left the hotel several times and used public transport to travel around.

And police in Tasmania arrested a man for failing to follow isolation rules after his return from Victoria.

The 50-year-old had been provided accommodation for his mandatory isolation, but after investigations by police it was discovered he had breached isolation rules on several occasions and was arrested on Sunday.

-with AAP

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