*Ruby Princess docked in Sydney Harbour (Photo: Supplied, Belinda Brittain)
As Ruby Princess returns to international waters and a Special Commission of Inquiry kicks off, not all those who sailed on her are prepared to play the blame game.
Twenty-one of its former passengers have died from coronavirus, with the ship linked to a further 600 confirmed cases.
“It’s being called a ‘debacle’ and a ‘fiasco’,” notes Pauline Brittain, a retiree and passenger on the ill-fated cruise who’s now in home isolation in Childers Queensland.
“Everyone wants somebody to blame for what’s happened. But I think that NSW Health, Princess Cruises and Border Security made decisions which they thought were in the best interests of the public at the time.
“I think everyone knew what the situation was before they went on that cruise. I chose to go. I knew what the situation was. We’re all responsible. Let’s face it, when we were waiting to board there were 2700 people milling around Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour.”
When Mrs Brittain and her daughter Belinda commenced their Ruby Princess holiday on March 8, the coronavirus had claimed 3584 lives globally. Most of these deaths were in China, with that number also including seven people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Eleven days later when the Brittains disembarked in Sydney, the number of deaths globally had more than doubled.
Australian Border Force and the Australian Department of Health distributed separate COVID-19 health warnings and instructions to passengers prior to disembarkation. But there was conflicting information about where to commence self-isolation. The options were; the last international port, or upon arriving in Sydney.
Mrs Brittain sought clarification from an official at the Circular Quay Overseas Passenger Terminal during the disembarkation process, but she was moved along quickly.
“As I was walking away I heard this officer say to someone else ‘We’re not here to answer questions’.”
Although frustrated by this, she has a broader perspective on how disembarkation was carried out.
“When you think of what happened on the Diamond Princess when people were kept on board and that turned out worse,” she said.
“I don’t know, but perhaps that’s why we were moved off the ship pretty quick.”
Mrs Brittain has travelled with four different cruise lines and felt that the Ruby Princess demonstrated higher hygiene standards compared to others.
“We were asked, if possible, to use our own toilets in our cabins rather than the communal toilets,” she said.
“Also, the Cruise Director said at one time he wasn’t going to shake hands and recommended that we refrain from shaking hands or hugging or kissing. But that’s not to say they knew there was coronavirus onboard.
“We had televisions in our room, we knew what was going on in the world and we were getting off in foreign ports each day.”
Pauline Brittain isn’t giving up on cruising.
“I’ll definitely cruise again and I’ll cruise with Princess (Cruise Lines) again. I think they were focused on protecting passengers. Keeping us safe.”
Daughter Belinda, now feels sorry for the ship’s crew.
“It’s not their fault they got caught up in this political mess,” she said. “I hope that once they leave they will soon be reunited with their loved ones.”
— Wendy John @WendyJohn8