Angry families, victims slam cruise line’s ‘damage control’

 

A LETTER sent to passengers of the disastrous Ruby Princess voyage from the company's President claimed to have not known of the widespread impact COVID-19 had on passengers of the ship, now responsible for 21 deaths.

The letter, obtained by The Sunday Mail, was sent from Jan Swartz to some of the passengers who were on board the ship, which is now the centre of Australia's largest COVID-19 cluster.

The letter offered full refunds to passengers, as well as complimentary and confidential counselling services.

However for the family of 85-year-old Toowoomba man Des Williams - who died after he contracted the virus from the ship - the letter, or any formal apology from the company, never came.

Des Williams died at Toowoomba Hospital on Wednesday after contracting the coronavirus on the Ruby Princess. He is pictured with his wife Bev.
Des Williams died at Toowoomba Hospital on Wednesday after contracting the coronavirus on the Ruby Princess. He is pictured with his wife Bev.

Des' stepson Craig Blackburn said the only contact from the company coincidentally came the day his family were burying Des, when they received a generic phone call offering counselling support.

"Someone from the company happened to call us just after we'd buried Des and said 'this is the Ruby Princess care team, just wondering if you need any counselling? and we just said, 'no, we don't, but we've just buried our stepdad who died after being on your ship.' They didn't really know what to say when we said that," Mr Blackburn told The Sunday Mail.

Mr Blackburn said a letter from Jan Swartz or the company wouldn't change anything for him or his now-widowed mum Bev, who also contracted the virus after travelling on the ship with Des.

Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz.
Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz.

The letter from Ms Swartz, dated April 20, said Australian Privacy laws limited what health information was accessible to Princess Cruises.

"Australian privacy laws prevent authorities from sharing guests' health information with us," Ms Swartz said.

"Accordingly, unless you or family have made contact with us and advised us of your situation, Princess Cruises does not know if you or loved ones have been affected, and the extent of any impact.

"Based on this, we are extremely conscious that by writing this letter to all of you - our Ruby Princess guests - this correspondence may appear insensitive to some. Please know that this is by no means our intention."

One Ruby Princess passenger, who chose to remain anonymous, said the letter feels like an attempt at 'damage control.'

"I think from reading the letter the legal team has advised them to do it," the woman said.

"A bit of damage control really, to try put them in a better light … But I don't look at them in a better light at all, because what they've done is just dreadful. There's 21 people dead.

"The fact we're getting a monetary refund is good, but that doesn't change the fact of what's happened. It's horrendous."

The Ruby Princess cruise ship as it departed Australia from Port Kembla in Wollongong. Picture: AAP/NSW Police
The Ruby Princess cruise ship as it departed Australia from Port Kembla in Wollongong. Picture: AAP/NSW Police

The woman said claims by Ms Swartz that the cruise giant were unaware of the impact of COVID-19 on Ruby Princess passengers were "absolute rubbish" and that she would have expected more.

"It means that the families of the people that died from the cruise might get $2000 dollars, so what? It's rather rude really when you look at what's happened to them and their families," she said.

"The families should all be visited by Jan Swartz from Princess Cruises and given a personal apology. They need more than monetary compensation.

"I mean nothing will bring those people back. Tragically, the damage is done."

Ms Swartz's letter finished by thanking guests for their support and stating the company welcomed the ongoing police investigation by New South Wales government, to which she said the company were fully co-operating.

Originally published as Angry families, victims slam cruise line's 'damage control'