Port Authority official thought Ruby Princess was 'low risk'

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A NSW Port Authority official has admitted he thought the Ruby Princess was deemed "low risk" when he dispatched a port worker to bring the ship into dock.

That's despite receiving an email a day earlier stating it was Port Authority policy to treat a ship as if it had a positive COVID-19 result if tests had been taken off the vessel, pending a result.

The Port Authority is responsible for dispatching 'pilots' onto large vessels to bring them into port. The inquiry heard the pilot who sailed the Ruby Princess into port was not informed of any COVID-19 risks on board.

In an email from a Port Authority official, Mr Butchart had been told that results for COVID-19 tests taken off the ship were not yet known.

However the email also noted that the Ruby Princess was deemed "low risk" by NSW Health.

 

"Once you received this email… were you going to approach the Ruby Princess as if it had a positive result for COVID-19 and alert your pilot to that risk?" lawyers appearing on behalf of Carnival Australia asked Mr Butchart.

"No, I wasn't," Mr Butchart replied."The message I took from the email is that it was low risk, (NSW Health) won't be attending, great, NSW Health have got this in hand," he said.

"Could you explain whether you treated the Ruby Princess as if it had a positive result, and alerted your pilot accordingly, and if you didn't, why didn't you?" commissioner Bret Walker SC asked.

"I didn't alert the pilot to that risk, no," Mr Butchart said.

"I don't know if it's an error on my part, if I misread the email, but I looked at that email very quickly, and … I thought 'terrific, NSW health have got this in hand'."

Mr Butchart agreed with the suggestion from Mr Walker that "the public health label 'low risk' … introduced an unfortunate element in your decision making".

Counsel assisting the commission Richard Beasley said it should be noted Mr Butchart had enough concern about the Ruby Princess to cancel its booking to dock in Sydney, before that decision was reversed.

Originally published as NSW Port Authority official thought Ruby Princess was 'low risk'


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