More than 5600 people will be sent online questionnaires regarding the ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise ship amid one of NSW Police’s biggest ever investigations.
The 2647 passengers who disembarked the Ruby Princess in Sydney on March 19, as well as the 2995 passengers on the preceding voyage which docked on March 8, will next week receive the survey on what they saw and heard during the cruises.
Police will then conduct interviews with those who give noteworthy responses, with a team of 30 detectives being led by the state’s homicide squad.
Passengers who arrived home from the second Ruby Princess voyage to New Zealand were permitted to disembark without adequate health checks. The ship is connected to 19 coronavirus deaths to date and hundreds of cases across Australia.
Authorities handling the probe are investigating if criminal negligence took place by operator Princess Cruises or Ruby Princess crew members in the March 19 disembarkation of the ship, as well as any failures of NSW or Commonwealth departments.
They last week seized the ship’s black box and have interviewed crew members.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott on Friday told reporters police would conduct an investigation “like no other” and would need to work alongside overseas counterparts.
The ship is connected to COVID-19 cases in New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
“There’s no rule book when it comes to these sorts of inquiries; it’s very unusual for something this large, across so many jurisdictions, to be put into the lap of one person,” Mr Elliott said.
A special commission of inquiry overseen by barrister Bret Walker SC is running in parallel to the police probe, while a coronial inquest remains a possibility.
Mr Walker’s inquiry is expected to conclude before the NSW Police probe.
“We won’t shrink from pointing to matters to the credit or discredit of persons and agencies involved in this unhappy narrative,” Mr Walker told ABC TV on Friday.
NSW Police assistant commissioner Stuart Smith on Friday said Princess Cruises and parent company Carnival Australia had been providing information to police each day.
He declined to confirm earlier remarks by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, who said the ship’s “patient zero” was likely a crew member involved in serving food.
Mr Fuller on Friday said NSW Police would continue to aim for Sunday as a departure date for the Ruby Princess, which is docked at Port Kembla.
He said he was waiting for the all-clear from health authorities to begin the process of instructing the ship to depart, with 153 virus-hit crew members on board. Another 13 crew members have been evacuated to NSW hospitals.
NSW Health said it was progressively testing all 1040 crew members for the virus.
“If the health advice is I need to wait another couple of days then no doubt Australian Border Force and NSW Police will honour that,” Mr Fuller told reporters.
“We will continue to work with the ship and Carnival to make sure that anyone who can come off and be repatriated can be … the safety of the crew is still paramount.”
In a full-page advertisement in The Australian newspaper on Thursday, Princess Cruises said it fully supported all police inquiries into the debacle.
Originally published as Police set to issue Ruby Princess surveys