Ruby Princess COVID-19 crisis could spark class action
Legal action is being investigated against both the Ruby Princess and, if possible, government authorities for allowing the ship to dock, prompting the fierce spread of COVID-19.
Shine Lawyers confirmed last night they have received a number of inquiries from people on the Ruby Princess and are investigating avenues to bring claims over illness and damage suffered.
They are also investigating whether claims can be brought by others in the community exposed to the virus as a result of the decision by the state government to allow passengers to disembark.
Shine Lawyers National Practice Leader Lisa Flynn said it was "early stages" and the first priority was the safety and health of people exposed to the virus, but multiple inquiries had been made already about claims.
She said there was a possibility it could evolve into a class action, or multiple individual claims if legal action was able to be brought.
"Our investigations are centred in terms of the actions of the ship, what they knew or what measures they took or failed to take to protect and inform all the passengers on the ship and the quarantine measures," Ms Flynn said.
"And also, the actions of the government in terms of their alleged failures once the ship was docked on land."
The crisis surrounding the Ruby Princess cruise liner deepened with the death of a 70-year-old female passenger dying from coronavirus, the total number of ship-related cases jumping to at least 133 and authorities unable to even say how many passengers on board have now been contacted, let alone tested.
A day after it was announced that the Australian Defence Force would be assisting NSW Health with Contact Tracing Support Teams, confusion reigned over who was coordinating the national efforts to track down the 2700 passengers who disembarked in Sydney in the early hours of March 19.
News Corp asked NSW Health, the Commonwealth Department of Health and the office of NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard who was in charge, but none of them replied to repeated calls and requests for comment.
They were also unable to answer simple questions regarding how many Ruby Princess passengers have been contacted thus far, how many of them have been traced, and how many of them have been tested for coronavirus.
A spokeswoman for NSW Health said they were responsible only for the data pertaining to people who were still in New South Wales.
Other state and territory health services were responsible for collecting data on affected people in their respective areas, the spokeswoman said.
Carnival Australia spokesman David Jones said the company had passed phone numbers and email addresses of all passengers on to NSW Health.
NSW Health did confirm a 70-year-old woman who had been a passenger on the ship died in hospital yesterday morning.
She had been taken directly to hospital after getting off the ship on March 19 and was one of three passengers who were confirmed to have the virus following the testing of retained specimens on board the ship, a department spokesperson said.
The cases of passengers testing positive for the virus exploded on Tuesday, with 133 confirmed diagnoses: 107 in New South Wales, and 26 interstate.
However, individual health authorities have varying figures for people testing positive from their respective states.
Cases have rocketed each day since Saturday, when it was revealed that four passengers had tested positive for COVID-19. On Sunday, the number jumped to 26, and on Monday it shot up to 48.
But there are concerns that the NSW Health data is inaccurate, with reports of Ruby Princess-related cases not appearing to tally with their "interstate" lump sum of 26. News Corp understands that there are now 12 Ruby Princess-related cases in South Australia, nine in Tasmania, six in Western Australia and two in the Northern Territory: A total of 26 before totals from Victoria, Queensland and the ACT were even factored in.
One report yesterday suggested there could be as many as 15 cases in Queensland.
Shine Lawyers said they had been contacted by Ruby Princess passengers with concerns about a lack of safety measures enacted on board the ship.
Ms Flynn said she believed there was a case for affected passengers.
"Our early investigations indicate that the ship and the Government failed the passengers as well as the rest of the country," Ms Flynn said.
"The 2700 passengers on board … were not monitored nor were they advised of risk to themselves and the risk that they posed to others and were free to alight their ship and board other means of transport to freely infect unknowing citizens across the country."
State Labor Health Spokesman Ryan Park told News Corp the Ruby Princess disembarkation was a "colossal disaster".
"It is going to be very very difficult to contain this virus as a result of a monumental stuff-up by the NSW government to allow people to get off that ship, mix within the community, and not do the appropriate checks beforehand."
Asked whether heads should roll over the debacle, Mr Park said that should not be the priority "in the middle of a pandemic".
"I think what this incident highlights is there needs to be a lot more cooperation between all levels of government and we need some very clear guidelines developed to ensure that people who are unwell, who are sick, do not pose a risk to themselves and others by getting off a cruise ship and potentially mixing with thousands of people in the community," Mr Park said.
The Ruby Princess's docking time in Sydney at 2.29am on March 19 raised eyebrows, but Carnival Australia spokesman David Jones said the ship berthed a couple of hours ahead of schedule simply because of the change in government regulations regarding cruise ships.
News Corp understands such a docking time would be unusual for a cruise liner in the normal course of events.
Other sources said the docking was carried out in a "free-for-all" manner, and not in the usual staggered way of most cruise liners.
"The advice from NSW Health that COVID-19 had been found among Ruby Princess passengers came as a disappointment," Mr Jones said. "We share the public health authority's concern and have worked closely with them to make contact with all passengers."
"It now appears clear that when Ruby Princess began its cruise on March 8 in Sydney, the incidence of COVID-19 in the general community was higher than might have been apparent at the time," Mr Jones said. He said the most likely scenario was that the virus was "unwittingly introduced to the ship following embarkation in Sydney" on March 8.
The failure to contain the issue with NSW borders has created problems for all other states and territories. The total caseload in the Northern Territory jumped from three to five after a couple on Saturday who had been passengers on the ship flew home to Darwin and then reported feeling unwell, and four more cases were added to Tasmania's tally on Monday for similar reasons.
Another cruise ship owned by Carnival Australia, the Sea Princess, had initially been scheduled to arrive in Sydney tomorrow, but Mr Jones confirmed it was not carrying any passengers.
"It is out of service and if it does come in it would be a technical call only," he said.
Originally published as Ruby Princess COVID-19 crisis could spark class action