The Ruby Princess has been under intense scrutiny since its had many deaths of passengers from coronavirus.
The Ruby Princess has been under intense scrutiny since its had many deaths of passengers from coronavirus.

Ruby Princess crew warned of COVID-19 risk as probe begins

Maritime crew on the Ruby Princess ship were warned about the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships as early as February.

Carnival Cruises port agent Dobrila Tokovic has told the inquiry into the ill-fated ship that NSW Health authorities had called a meeting in February to warn them about the risk of the virus and the fact passengers would be screened.

"[NSW Health's Kelly-Anne Ressler] called a meeting and explained that moving forward additional questions would be asked and possibility NSW Public Health would board… to screen for COVID-19," she said.

NSW Health authorities told crew on board the Ruby Princess to rush back to Sydney so that swabs could be tested urgently for COVID-19.

Carnival Cruise port agent Dobrila Tokovich has told counsel for the probe that the ship was told to dock early on March 19 by health authorities so that swabs for the deadly virus could be taken to pathologists.

When asked whether the ship was "hurrying back to Sydney because of the COVID-19 swabs," Ms Tokovich said "that was my understanding."

"Ms Burrows had told me to book a pilot for 1am as we wanted to bring the vessel in to get the swabs off the vessel," she told Richard Beasley SC.

Ms Tokovich said she was told the day before the ship was due that NSW Health authorities will board the ship before disembarkation to assess sick passengers.

Passengers disembarking the Ruby Princess cruise ship were not subject to passport checks in Sydney because Australian Border Force considered them never having "left" Australia, an inquiry into the handling of the cruise ship has heard.

Giving evidence to the inquiry, Carnival Australia employee Dobrila Tokovic said it was not surprising passports weren't scanned when passengers left the cruise vessel, because the ship was classified as a "round trip" cruise.

She said cruise liners can be exempted for passport checks on returning to Australia under certain circumstances - including if the duration of the voyage is ten days or less.

"When the passengers come into the terminal, they're not required to do a face to passport (check) and the reasoning behind that is that those passengers are not processed out of Australia," Ms Tokovic said.

Commissioner Bret Walker asked the witness whether passengers are "treated as if they've never left Australia, although they have".

"Correct," Ms Tokovic said.

The second day of hearings on the Ruby Princess debacle have begun.

A lawyer for the company behind the Ruby Princess has accused NSW Police of illegally seizing the mobile phone of one of the cruise ship's workers.

A criminal probe is underway at the same time as a public inquiry investigates the now infamous vessel, which has become the single biggest source of infection in Australia.

On Wednesday the barrister for Princess Cruise Lines and Carnival PLC flagged concerns about legal privilege with his client after police officers "deprived that phone."

"The phone, we say, had been unlawfully taken from the rightful owner," David McClure SC told the Special Commission of Inquiry.

The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess is investigating the circumstances which led to thousands of passengers - some infected with COVID-19 - disembarking from the ship in March.

On the first day of hearings, a senior NSW Health official broke down in tears and apologised for the series of errors which led to the disembarkation.

We will have live updates for you here.