Ruby Princess
Investigators in protective gear prepare to board the Ruby Princess cruise ship at Wollongong, Australia on April 8, 2020. Police boarded the cruise ship to seize evidence and question crew members after the vessel was linked to hundreds of COVID-19 cases and more than a dozen deaths across Australia. Image Credit: AP

Sydney: Australian police said on Thursday they have taken the “black box” of a cruise ship which disembarked hundreds of passengers infected with the coronavirus in Sydney, as part of a homicide investigation into the country’s deadliest infection source.

The investigation got under way as the Australian authorities said the rate of new coronavirus infections hit its lowest number in three weeks and began arranging more flights to bring home citizens stranded abroad.

The Ruby Princess cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has become a flashpoint of public anger in Australia after authorities granted the ship permission to disembark its 2,700 passengers last month without health checks.

Hundreds of the passengers later tested positive for the coronavirus and 15 have died, out of Australia’s roughly 6,000 confirmed cases and 51 deaths.

Investigators boarded the ship at an industrial port south of Sydney, interviewed the captain and took electronic logs as evidence, New South Wales state Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.

“They spoke to the captain of the ship, who was extremely helpful,” Fuller said in a televised news conference on Thursday.

“Ships have a black box very similar to that of international planes, and that and other evidence has been seized for further investigation.” About 1,000 crew of various nationalities remain on board the ship.

Globally, more than 1.5 million people have tested positive to the coronavirus, which has caused about 87,000 deaths.

Flattened curve

In the past day, Australia recorded 96 new coronavirus infections, its first daily increase of fewer than 100 cases in three weeks, Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

“The curve continues to flatten, we are consolidating the gains,” Hunt said in a televised news conference.

“While we have been cautious over the last two weeks as we have seen the early data, what we’re seeing now is a genuine consolidation.” Prime Minister Scott Morrison in his Easter address implored people to stay home and cancel trips during what is a traditional vacation period.

Morrison earlier met with state and territory leaders in one of the bi-weekly meetings of a special Cabinet set up to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. The Cabinet will not meet now until Thursday, Morrison said.

Australia has for weeks restricted the movements of people, requiring them to stay home except for essential work or to exercise and buy food, and police have said they will use the threat of on-the-spot fines to stop people travelling or socialising over Easter.

Police said they will step up their presence and use helicopters to target anyone who attempts to travel.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had arranged with Qantas Airways Ltd to run special flights to repatriate Australians stuck abroad.

The flights would carry people in Peru, Argentina and South Africa home in the next week, with flights also being planned from India and the Philippines.