Covid outbreak on Ruby Princess ‘not an accident’ and cruise should never have sailed, court told

The ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise that left 28 people dead from Covid in the early days of the pandemic should never have sailed, the federal court has been told.

The claim was made in opening submissions of a class action against Carnival PLC – operators of the ship which sailed from Sydney for New Zealand on the evening of 8 March 2020, with 2,641 passengers on board.

Of the 1,679 Australians, 663 are believed to have contracted the virus.

The ship eventually turned around because of the number of cases. When it finally docked on 19 March, crew lined the gangway as passengers – some seen coughing and spluttering – left the ship, catching trains, buses and even overseas flights to get home.

In his opening submissions, Ian Pike SC, for the lead plaintiff, Susan Karpik, said the company was well aware the cruise was in jeopardy of a Covid outbreak and had failed to take reasonable precautions, including properly screening passengers before embarkation, or cancelling the cruise.

“What occurred was not an accident, it was something very likely to have occurred,” he told the court.

Pike said the two other ships in the company’s fleet had suffered outbreaks – including 700 cases and seven deaths on the infamous Diamond Princess which had sailed out of Japan – in the weeks leading up to the cruise.

He told the court the Ruby Princess also had an outbreak in its previous cruise, which had docked in Sydney on the morning of 8 March, with dozens of passengers reporting symptoms.

As a result, he said, the Ruby Princess had insufficient medical supplies to combat an outbreak.

Crew had even failed to obtain enough masks, because of a global shortage, and ran out just a day into the cruise.

“They knew they didn’t have enough masks and shortly into the cruise they ran out,” Pike said.

He said the company had also been trying for weeks to obtain thermal cameras to detect cases but had failed.

“This boat never should have sailed,” he said. “It was negligent to do so.”

Pike said the company failed to properly protect passengers during the cruise even though it knew the ship had an outbreak.

There was no social distancing, activities continued as normal, and there was very little in the way of effective quarantining, the court heard.

“The practices fell well short of what was required,” he said.

“Very few people, if any, remained in quarantine for any more than a couple of days.”

Karpik, who joined the cruise with her husband of 50 years Henry, went on to develop Covid.

Carnival intends to defend itself against the claims.

The trial is scheduled to last four weeks, but could spill into the new year.

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