Stupid to think Ruby Princess COVID-free
Embarking on the Ruby Princess cruise at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic believing the liner was free from the virus was “very stupid”, a judge has been told.
In the Federal Court on Monday, former nurse Susan Karpik admitted she had been extremely naïve in expecting Princess Cruises to eliminate coronavirus from the Ruby Princess before the ship left Sydney on March 8, 2020.
“We had assumed there was no coronavirus on that ship when we boarded … and I recognise now it was probably very stupid of us to have that view,” she told Justice Angus Stewart.
At the time, however, she expected Princess Cruises to have systems that eradicated the risk and to either cancel the voyage or at least inform passengers if the virus was detected.
Karpik is the lead plaintiff in a class action against Australian charter company Carnival, which trades under the Princess Cruises name, and the operator of the Ruby Princess, Bermuda-registered Princess Cruise Lines.
She is seeking damages, alleging the cruise line failed in its duty to take reasonable care of the passengers.
Her individual claim revolves around the stress and disappointment caused by the illness of her husband Henry, who had to be placed in an induced four-week coma after contracting the virus, and his ongoing care.
In total, 663 positive cases were reported among the 2641 passengers, including 1679 Australians on board.
Twenty-eight people died from the outbreak.
The Ruby Princess sailed from Sydney for New Zealand on a 13-day round trip, but returned 11 days later, when Australia’s borders were shut in the early days of the pandemic.
Karpik told the court her husband tested positive to influenza A aboard, but that he was not tested for coronavirus.
“He asked the ship’s doctor if he could be tested and she said that the tests were not available, the helicopter hadn’t dropped them off yet.”
Princess Cruises’ barrister David McClure SC pointed out that any mention of a lack of testing kits was omitted from Karpik’s statements to NSW Police in April and May 2020.
Claims a woman had been seen coughing profusely in a elevator and that Karpik had headaches and diarrhoea while on board were also absent from these earlier statements despite being included in her affidavits, the court heard.
McClure accused the former nurse of lying and making absurd claims to help win the class action.
Karpik denied these allegations.
She told the court her doctor son-in-law had raised concerns about coronavirus before they departed.
“He actually said that cruise ships from his perspective were Petri dishes and the risk of infection was high for any illness or any condition.”
They also discussed Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess on which around 700 people became infected with the virus off Japan in February 2020.
Karpik said she expected Princess to take extra steps to prevent further outbreaks after the Diamond Princess incident.
The couple boarded the Ruby Princess knowing COVID-19 was highly contagious and possibly fatal, the court heard.
She said that, at the time, she knew the virus was circulating in the northern hemisphere but was not aware that over 70 Australians had contracted the disease and that two had died.
Karpik expected Princess Cruises to be “100 per cent cautious” about the screening of staff coming in from across the globe.
“We might have been terribly mistaken, but we felt that the cruise company had an obligation to us as customers that that screening would happen.”
She felt reassured about measures taken by the cruise line including barring those who had travelled to China, Macau or Hong Kong from embarking.
Also representing Princess Cruises, barrister Greg O’Mahoney attacked the former nurse’s claim that she was now taking a higher dosage of anti-depressants as a result of the cruise.
Instead, O’Mahoney suggested she had been diagnosed with depression years before the trip and had previously taken the exact same dose as she was currently taking due to other stressors.
Karpik will continue her evidence on Tuesday.