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Good riddance to the Ruby Princess after her deadly Sydney sojourn

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Authorities are confident the Ruby Princess cruise ship will leave the NSW coast by the end of the day with about 500 crew members remaining on board.

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NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys on Thursday told reporters police were “extremely confident” the ship’s departure from Port Kembla was imminent.

The ship has been docked for more than two weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak, with the vessel so far linked to 21 coronavirus deaths and up to 600 infections across Australia.

More than 300 crew members are currently disembarking the ship and will be taken to Sydney Airport where they will fly home to the Philippines on Thursday evening.

Groups have been disembarking the ship since Tuesday, with Worboys saying about 550 crew members were expected to have left the vessel by Thursday afternoon.

Those who tested negative to COVID-19 were taken to either Sydney Airport or a hotel to await flights to their country of origin.

A total of 21 crew members who disembarked the ship have tested positive for COVID-19 and have been taken to hotels managed by NSW Health for a quarantine period of 14 days.

Another 12 seriously ill crew members infected with coronavirus have previously been taken to NSW hospitals.

This leaves about 500 crew members on board the vessel while it travels back to its port of origin.

“A good quantity on that boat are willing to travel on that vessel,” Worboys said.

Most of the crew have remained in isolation on the ship.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said health authorities have been working with the Australian Border Force, police, Aspen Medical, and the ship’s medical crew to ensure the vessel is ready to depart safely.

Chant says authorities are confident the COVID-19 outbreak is under control and no one remaining on the ship has an active infection.

“The ship is now in a position to set sail,” she told reporters.

Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz said the crew members have shown strength amid “extremely difficult” circumstances.

She also thanked the Illawarra community for supporting the crew, with the cruise liner donating $50,000 to the Mission to Seafarers at Port Kembla charity.

“The Illawarra community never lost sight of the fact that this was all about people caught up in difficult circumstances that were not of their making,” Swartz said in a statement.

A special commission of inquiry into the Ruby Princess heard on Wednesday that the doctor on board the ship, Dr Ilse Von Watzdorf, was surprised the ship was permitted to unload its 2700 passengers in Sydney on March 19 before coronavirus test results were known.

The inquiry will continue on Thursday. It is running parallel to a NSW Police probe that is expected to deliver its findings by September.

-AAP/Dominica Sanda

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