Battle for truth in Ruby Princess COVID-19 probe

Almost 700 people have been interviewed during the police probe into the coronavirus outbreak on the ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise ship.

More than 660 Ruby Princess passengers tested positive to COVID-19 and 28 deaths were linked to the ship after it was allowed to dock at Circular Quay, despite passengers showing flu-like symptoms on board in March.

The contentious decision set off a blame game between government agencies about who made the call and why.

About 2700 passengers were allowed to disembark and many tested positive to the virus after using public transport or commercial flights to get home.

The NSW Homicide Squad established a strike force in April to investigate whether the cruise operator, Carnival Australia, downplayed potential coronavirus cases on board before the ship received the green light to dock.

The Ruby Princess cruise ship embroiled in the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020.
The Ruby Princess cruise ship embroiled in the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020.

Led by Detective Chief Inspector Jason Dickinson, the strike force has spent the past several months interviewing hundreds witnesses in Australia and overseas.

The challenge has been obtaining statements from many passengers isolated by border restrictions.

Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said police had to "develop virtual evidence gathering techniques", including interviewing witnesses electronically.

"During the Ruby Princess investigation we had to develop virtual evidence gathering techniques due to restrictions on travel and social interactions in 2020," he said.

"Some of these passengers were based overseas.

"About 680 witnesses were interviewed. That was after more than 7000 people were subject to questionnaires.

"It remains an active coronial investigation and the brief will be provided to the coroner, who will determine whether an inquest is required next year."

While an unusual case for the Homicide Squad to handle, Police Commissioner Mick Fuller suggested police conduct its own investigation discrepancies emerged between information provided by Carnival Australia and reports from people on board.

Originally published as Battle for truth in Ruby Princess COVID-19 probe