Police to keep ships at bay
Fourteen cruise ships were being held off Australian ports on Thursday night after another Australian passenger died from coronavirus contracted on a cruise.
The West Australian and NSW governments have each handed the control of cruise ships to their respective police commissioners, giving police the job of blocking cruise ships from docking. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said national protocols must be put in place before any passengers could land.
Heavily armed police were at Fremantle port south of Perth on Thursday after West Australian Police Commissioner Chris Dawson used his state of emergency powers to ban passengers from the coronavirus-infected German cruise ship Artania. It remained anchored about 1km offshore with seven confirmed COVID-19 cases on board.
Police have patrolled the area in boats since Wednesday when Premier Mark McGowan sent a medical team to the Artania to carry out COVID-19 tests on passengers who were sick. He vowed no passenger would be allowed onshore except in the case of a lifethreatening emergency.
Mr McGowan said on Thursday that he wanted the Artania to set sail for South Africa immediately with the coronavirus-infected passengers on board. Alternatively, he said, the Australian government could make arrangements for Germany to send planes to collect the passengers under “strictest” quarantine criteria.
There are no Australians on the Artania.
In NSW, 11 cruise ships remained off the coast after an edict from Ms Berejiklian that no passengers be allowed to disembark. The order was made on Wednesday after days of bad headlines over the Ruby Princess cruise ship, whose 2700 passengers were permitted to walk off the ship before COVID-19 testing could be completed.
The ship is now lying off the coast between Sydney and Wollongong along with several other vessels, including the Carnival Spirit, Voyager of the Seas, Celebrity Solstice, Ovation of the Seas and the Carnival Splendour.
NSW Health released figures revealing a further increase in the number of COVID-19 cases orig
inating from the Ruby Princess and Ovation of the Seas — 121 cases and 31 cases in NSW, respectively. On Wednesday night a second Ruby Princess passenger, a 67-year-old male, died in Queensland; the first was a 77-year-old woman who was taken away from the ship on arrival in an ambulance.
The most recent coronavirus death in Australia was announced by West Australian Health Minister Roger Cook on Thursday, bringing the number of deaths in Australia to 13.
The man in his 70s had recently disembarked from a passenger cruise and flown home to Perth from the east coast. He arrived in the emergency department of Joondalup Health Campus in Perth’s north, fainted and later died.
In Western Australia, 51 of the state’s 231 COVID-19 cases were infected on a cruise including 78year-old James Kwan, who died on March 1 after holidaying on the Diamond Princess. At least another four West Australians have been infected by cruise ship passengers, but authorities expect that figure to rise exponentially as they trace passengers’ close contacts.
In Tasmania, two children were among five new cases of coronavirus confirmed on Thursday night. They were all passengers on the same cruise ship and brought that state’s total number of cases to 47.
Ms Berejiklian granted decision-making power to allow cruise ship passengers on to land to her Police Commissioner, Michael Fuller, who said he would not do so unless it was “crystal clear that they are clear of the virus”.
Mr McGowan has now asked the federal government to deal directly with the German government to ensure the ship leaves.
“They have travel plans that they should adhere to and we would like the commonwealth to ensure that happens,” he said.
“This ship needs to leave immediately … the sooner that ship gets home, the better it will be.”
Mr McGowan was making no exceptions for Australians either.
On Monday, about 200 West Australians on board the cruise ship Vasco da Gama are due to be taken by ferry from Fremantle to Rottnest Island for two weeks of quarantine.
A further 600 Australians were due to be held on the ship until their respective state governments could make arrangements to fly them home.
There was speculation on Thursday about whether the passengers on the Artania contracted coronavirus during a six-day stopover in Sydney from March 12 to 17, or whether they were infected earlier and may have spread the disease while on day trips in the NSW capital.
A spokesman for the ship’s owners said 613 Artania passengers disembarked on March 16 — when the ship is listed to have been docked in Sydney — and flew home. So far one of those passengers, a foreign national, has tested positive for coronavirus after returning to Germany.
“Western Australia’s position is this: if the seven passengers need to come onshore for medical treatment they will have to go to a commonwealth facility such as a defence force base,” Mr McGowan said.
“If this occurred then Germany and the Australian government can organise a plane to come and pick those passengers up and take them home.”
Late on Thursday, police collected an elderly man with renal failure from the Artania and he was delivered to a Perth hospital.
The Australian has been told his evacuation from the ship was considered an emergency. While he was not believed to have COVID-19, medical staff at the hospital assumed that he might as they treated him for advanced kidney disease.
Ms Berejiklian on Tuesday lay the blame for the Ruby Princess incident with Australian Border Force officials during a partyroom meeting, and poured scorn on the agency for allowing hundreds of people to stream through airports without adequate screening.
‘This ship needs to leave immediately ... the sooner (it) gets home, the better it will be’
MARK McGOWAN WA PREMIER
NSW police patrol the White Bay Cruise terminal in Sydney’s inner west