Carnival Australia is desperately seeking help from the state government to repatriate the crew on board Ruby Princess, as Pacific Explorer is forced to leave its homeport.
Although passengers disembarked weeks ago, the battle is far from over for Ruby Princess, with the ship forced to leave NSW waters while 1,000 crew members remain on board.
ABC News reported that six crew members were taken to hospital last week for treatment of a “respiratory illness” leaving the remaining crew living in fear they may have been infected.
“Being able to send home those crew members who are not required for the safe operation of the ship is the right thing to do both from a humanitarian point of view and Australia’s international standing as a maritime nation that looks after foreign nationals in its care,” Sture Myrmell, president of Carnival Australia, said in a statement.
“We remain concerned that it is not safe for the ship to sail away from Australia while there are crew members on board who are ill.
“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.
“Australia has maritime obligations to protect the welfare of seafarers and as such we need to care for foreign nationals as we would expect other nations to care for Australians in similar circumstances abroad.”
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is also calling on the Australian government to provide further support in repatriating crew.
With most cruise lines suspending operations in response to COVID-19, CLIA said all their members have disembarked passengers and are now focused on repatriating crew from remaining ships.
“Governments are refusing permission for crew who disembark ships to be repatriated. The cruise lines are very aware that crew are far from their families and eager to get home, and together with CLIA are lobbying governments to allow this,” Joel Katz, CLIA’s managing director for Australasia, said.
“If allowed, cruise lines will arrange charter flights for their crew or transport aboard their own vessels, but workable arrangements with government are required to make this happen.”
According to The Guardian, at least 440 passengers across six states and two territories have tested positive for COVID-19 after disembarking from Ruby Princess, accounting for 10 per cent of cases in Australia.
So far, five of the 19 deaths from COVID-19 have been passengers from the ship and one woman has been in an induced coma for the past ten days.
Passengers who have tested positive are also seeking legal action.
This comes as Carnival was dealt another blow, with the NSW police forcing Pacific Explorer to leave its homeport in Sydney Harbour.
“We live in incredibly difficult times but this is a particularly sad and disappointing day and a terrible blow for a vital part of the tourism sector,” Myrmell said in a statement posted to YouTube.
“Our homegrown brand P&O Cruises Australia has been cruising in Australia and the South Pacific for 88 years. It has been the backbone of cruising in Australia taking half a million Aussies on cruise holidays each year.”
Myrmell said he understands that governments are under pressure at this time, but that the company “only wanted the opportunity to take them out of service and keep them and their crew safe until this is all over”.
“It is bitterly disappointing that short term responses have put industry jobs and people at risk. There is still time to change this approach. Compassion and clear thinking beyond the current crisis has never been needed more,” he said.
In other cruise news, the Artania is refusing to leave Western Australia amid fears the ship could have dozens of cases of COVID-19 on board, ABC News reported.
The ship is currently responsible for more than 40 cases of the virus, most of whom are being treated in Perth hospitals while the remaining passengers were flown home to Germany. Around 450 staff still remain on the ship.
The Australian Border Force (ABF) has instructed the ship to leave Fremantle after disembarking its last remaining guests, but crew have said they would like to stay for another two weeks so they have access too hospitals should more cases appear.
WA Premier Mark McGowan told ABC News he wanted the ship to leave as he didn’t want it to serve as an “attraction for cruise ships elsewhere”.