A review by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity has confirmed critical errors by the Federal Government contributed to the Ruby Princess debacle last year, resulting in hundreds of infections and 28 deaths.
The Maritime Union of Australia said the report highlighted the Department of Agriculture’s failure to prepare for the risk posed by cruise ships arriving in Australian ports despite COVID outbreaks already occurring on cruise ships overseas.
The union said despite this latest examination of the Ruby Princess outbreak, gaping holes remained in the nation’s maritime biosecurity measures, including a lack of testing for foreign seafarers, a reliance on self-declaration of illness onboard, and no plan to vaccinate international crews visiting Australian ports.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin personally wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and then Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie nearly two months before the Ruby Princess arrived in Sydney in March 2020 to warn of biosecurity failures, but the Federal Government failed to act.
“The Inspector-General’s review confirms what we already knew: critical failures by the Federal Government and the department responsible for managing biosecurity directly led to the deadly COVID outbreak that spread from the Ruby Princess,” Mr Crumlin said.
“What should shock the Australian public is that 18 months into this pandemic, many of the gaping holes in maritime biosecurity remain, posing an ongoing threat to the community.
“Despite a growing number of international vessels arriving in Australian ports with COVID outbreaks onboard — including the highly infectious Delta variant — we still don’t have a policy in place to test all seafarers arriving from overseas ports.
“Instead, Australia’s maritime biosecurity measures are still relying on the captain of these international vessels — who are under huge commercial pressure to avoid any potential shipping delays — to self-notify illness before any COVID testing takes place.
“With rapid testing now available, there is no excuse not to implement strict biosecurity measures that ensure every seafarer arriving from an international port is tested for COVID, with the provision of appropriate medical care and infection control measures put in place when the virus is detected.
“We also need a plan to vaccinate international seafarers, not only to protect them, but because COVID threatens the ongoing operation of maritime supply chains which are at the backbone of our economy.
“The Federal Government must learn from past mistakes in their handling of the COVID crisis and ensure best practice biosecurity measures are put in place to prevent future outbreaks.”
/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).