Maritime union calls for Ruby Princess crew to be flown home

The Ruby Princess is due to depart Australia on April 23 with its remaining crew. Photo: Taylor Burnes/CC BY-SA 2.0

“Anyone who wants to get off the Ruby Princess should be flown home,” Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) spokesperson Rob Patterson told Green Left on April 21. “The ship should be deep cleaned in Australia, and those who are well and request it should be repatriated home.”

New South Wales and federal authorities have failed to deal with the passengers and crew of the stricken cruise liner Ruby Princess, which has been a hot spot of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Australia.

The ship is the source of more than 600 illnesses and at least 21 deaths, after 2700 passengers were allowed to disembark on March 19 without being tested. A doctor on board the ship has reportedly told the Special Commission of Inquiry that she would not have let passengers disembark when it docked in Sydney last month, given that more than a dozen people were displaying symptoms of COVID-19. 

If not for the union movement’s pressure, the crew would still be subject to the authorities’ dismissive and racist approach.

At least 49 crew members were allowed to disembark on April 21, transferred to hotels in Sydney and then flown home to their country of origin.

However, about 1000 people remain on board.

One of the disembarked crew members who tested positive for COVID-19 was sent to hospital immediately. Several of those remaining on board have been found to be positive.

NSW health authorities said more than 1000 crew tested positive, with 19 new cases confirmed on April 20.

NSW Police confirmed that the vast majority of the people being flown home are from Britain, the United States, New Zealand and Canada — all wealthy countries.

Most of those stuck on board are from south Asian countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

“A number of those still on board the Ruby Princess are not well,” Patterson said, adding that the MUA wants all those who are positive to be treated here.

He said this had been a difficult campaign to wage. “Border Force, in particular, is refusing to reply to union letters. We are urging Border Force and NSW Health that all ill crew members must be treated here before being sent home.”

The MUA also wants the Ruby Princess to be deep-cleaned in Australia, rather than being sent to the Philippines for cleaning — which is a possibility.

NSW Police has stated that the cruise liner is due to leave Port Kembla on April 23.

In a partial victory, South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris told the April 22 Daily Mail that about 550 Filipino-origin crew will depart the ship on April 23, before it sails, and more than 350 of those will fly out.

NSW Police has confirmed, however, that “a significant number” of crew members will remain on the vessel and return with it to its port of origin — in Bermuda.

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