• The Ruby Princess cruise ship sails off the coast of Sydney. (AAP)Source: AAP
The Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service has expressed concerns over the 'Ruby Princess', which is linked to almost one-third of the country's coronavirus deaths, docking in Port Kembla on Monday.
Shahni Wellington

6 Apr 2020 - 3:23 PM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2020 - 4:01 PM

The most notorious cruise ship for COVID-19 infections has dropped anchor on the New South Wales south coast.

The 'Ruby Princess', a carnival cruise vessel, has become the single largest source of Coronavirus cases in the state - with more than 620 cases - and 11 associated deaths.

After receiving a direction from the NSW Police Commissioner, the cruise ship berthed on Monday at the Port Kembla dock, a suburb of Wollongong and part of the Illawarra region.

Currently there are no passengers on board but a crew of more than one thousand remains, with about 200 of them showing symptoms for coronavirus.

The ship is expected to stay for 10 days to refuel and stock up supplies.

NSW Police said the crew are not expected to disembark, but will be facilitated if medical treatment or hospitalisation is needed.

Last month, more than 2,000 Ruby Princess passengers were given the all-clear by border and health authorities to exit the cruise ship after it docked at Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour, leading to fatalities and potentially widespread community transmission of the virus.

Now, south coast health representatives fear for their own communities, with more than 8,000 Indigenous people residing in the Illawarra region, 

Chief Executive Officer of the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS), Kane Ellis, said the announcement was concerning.

"Our people are probably the highest priority at the moment, trying to keep the coronavirus out of their communities. And, you know, we're sort of bringing this ship in?" Mr Ellis said.

"But on the other hand, what do you do? They had options and they've chosen us, so I guess it's just keeping people safe with the messaging and things like that and up to date with information and hopefully they've got it all under control."

As one of the most vulnerable population to the virus due to high incidences of chronic disease, including heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illness, some regional and remote Aboriginal communities are enforcing their own lock-downs to protect their mob from the virus.

A similar option has proven more difficult in metropolitan areas.

Mr Ellis says the AMS wasn’t notified or consulted about the arrival.

"The last I heard was that it was either Newcastle or Port Kembla. So they've made that decision to come to Port Kembla, but like I said, we just got to make sure that we're getting a message out to our people in the Illawarra and keeping people safe," said Mr Ellis.

A statement from NSW Ports said that "strict protocols and procedures will be in place at all times to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all workers involved and the wider community."

During a time of uncertainty, the Illawarra Medical Service is using the cruise ships arrival as a reminder for people to wash their hands, maintain good hygiene and stay at home as much as possible.

"We just got to keep safe, keep each other up to date with everything and keep talking." Mr Ellis said.

"If you know of any Elders that are out there, let them know to stay home and reach out if they need some help for anything.

"We've just gotta deal with this one day at a time."

On Sunday, NSW Police announced it would conduct a criminal investigation into the decision to allow the Ruby Princess cruise ship to dock and release passengers in Circular Quay in March.

State borders close, more COVID-19 cases linked to Ruby Princess cruise ship
Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have joined the Northern Territory and Tasmania in taking steps to close borders. Meanwhile, almost 50 cases of Coronavirus have been linked to the Ruby Princess, which was allowed to dock in Sydney last week.