Update over investigation under Strike Force Bast, NSW

Police have outlined the breadth of the investigation under Strike Force Bast and appealed for assistance from passengers from the last two voyages of the Ruby Princess to assist with ongoing inquiries.

Detectives from across State Crime, Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics and Marine Area Commands are conducting inquiries under Strike Force Bast surrounding the docking and disembarking of the Ruby Princess at Sydney Harbour on Thursday 19 March 2020.

The priority of the investigation is to determine whether there was criminal negligence by the company or crew relevant to health issues prevailing on the ship, as well as any actions or omissions by any other entity, including NSW or Commonwealth departments, which may have directly or indirectly related to the death of a person from COVID-19.

This would include the nature of – and deficiencies in – decision-making processes both on-board and on-shore surrounding the management of the vessel, and its crew and passengers.

Strike Force Bast will refer any and all information relevant to jurisdictional responsibilities to the Special Commission of Inquiry.

Information relevant to the circumstances surrounding the deaths of people who either contracted COVID-19 on board the vessel or through contact with a passenger will be reported to the NSW Coroner’s Court in due course.

The State Coroner will not make a decision about whether an inquest will be held until after the criminal investigation and the Special Commission of Inquiry are completed.

Information from the vessel’s voyage data recorder (black box) – which was seized last Wednesday (8 April 2020) – and believed to contain telemetry, as well as engine and systems management, and voice recordings of ship-to-shore communications, is currently undergoing forensic examination.

All necessary inquiries have been conducted on-board and, as communication has been established with the crew, there are no operational or investigative issues that would impede the vessel’s impending departure.

Further, strike force investigators are continuing to receive relevant documentation from the cruise company; the process of logging, triaging and assessing the information is ongoing.

Due to current COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in place across the globe, strike force detectives are being flexible and agile in their approach to investigations management and witness contact, which includes a strong reliance on remote communications and digital technology.

In recent days, investigators have provided a survey to the crew currently on board the vessel, which will assist with guiding relevance of information, and witness statements will be obtained remotely, as required.

Strike force investigators will also reach out in coming days to passengers from both the 24 February to 8 March and 8-19 March voyages to conduct a similar survey, which will help prioritise the order in which statements are obtained.

The manifests list passengers from across the globe, including 2995 people on the first voyage and 2647 people on the second voyage – many with travel agents as their primary contact – and at this time, investigators are making their way through the list contacting via email and text.

They will be provided a link to an online questionnaire, which will provide the information directly to Strike Force Bast. This Initial triage will assist with prioritising key witnesses for a timely investigative response.

All passengers who receive the investigator’s electronic survey request are encouraged to complete it as soon as possible.

Passengers who have not received the survey by next Friday (24 April 2020) should register their best contact details with Crime Stoppers online at https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au, which will assist with establishing a direct contact within the strike force and ensuring the timely recording of relevant information.

While the rosters show many of the same crew were part of the more the 1100-strong workforce on-board for both voyages, there are numerous members who have since returned to their home country.

Given the expanse of the proposed inquiries – both in volume and distance – this may take some time to complete.

As such, Strike Force Bast may enlist the assistance of interstate and international law enforcement colleagues for liaison and to finalise statements.

These inquiries are expected to include the canvass of some 7000 people, the analysis of thousands of pages of documentation, and hundreds of hours of footage, and information may also be referred to the NSW Government’s Special Commission of Inquiry.

It is of critical importance that detectives ensure they maintain the integrity and thoroughness of this investigation – as they would any investigation – despite the current restrictions and guidelines under the Public Health Act.

Anyone who has information relevant to the investigation, including details of symptoms, illness, or medical advice during the voyage is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au.

The community is reminded that their information is treated in strict confidence.

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