https://www.afr.com/companies/tourism/ruby-princess-is-the-most-deadly-cruise-ship-20200403-p54gwa Call it the $5.2 billion question: will Ruby Princess sink the booming Australian cruise industry? Fiona Carruthers and Hannah Wootton Apr 8, 2020 – 6.17pm Jump on the website for Princess Cruises, and you'll see "balcony bonanza" deals aplenty, a cheerful gallery of #comebacknew guest moments, and the "more time for me time" campaign. Talk about a parallel universe. Analysis of Australia's COVID-19 fatalities as of Wednesday, April 8, show that Ruby Princess is officially the most deadly ship on the seas when it comes to the coronavirus. It's also now the subject of a criminal investigation known as Strike Force Bast, comprising a team of 30 detectives from across State Crime, Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics and Marine Area Commands. Now docked in Port Kembla south of Sydney, Ruby Princess is the subject of a criminal investigation. As of Wednesday, 15 passengers have died from COVID-19. AAP Cruise ships account for 21 of Australia's 50 confirmed virus deaths so far. Of these, 15 were Ruby Princess passengers, outstripping even Diamond Princess (its stablemate) on 12 deaths. Countless media reports have suggested it was clearly recorded that there were sick people aboard – including one passenger diagnosed with influenza and charged $454 for a consultation in the ship's medical clinic – before the Ruby Princess even passed through the Sydney Heads. The other COVID-19 cruise ship victims to die in Australia came from the Diamond Princess, Voyager of the Seas, Celebrity Solstice, Ovation of the Seas and the Artania. Cutting the figures another way, Ruby Princess passengers account for 30 per cent of Australia's 50 virus deaths and just under 10 per cent of the nation's 5900-plus confirmed cases. Call it the $5.2 billion question: but will Ruby Princess sink the booming Australian cruise industry? And if not, how will cruising stage a come back after its starring role in COVID-19? While rocked by the chain of events, industry leaders argue the cruise sector remains, to be blunt, too big, too powerful, and too popular not to recover, where its total economic impact worldwide is slated at $US130 billion ($211 billion). "Certainly it won't come back as strong as ever," says Tony Wheeler, who co-founded Lonely Planet, and is based between London and Melbourne. "Quite apart from the economic hit the cruise companies will take, even when this is over, many people will remain afraid that if something goes wrong, they'll be locked on a ghost ship endlessly circling the ocean looking for a port to take them. "That will be a big hurdle to overcome in people's minds. But from what I'm hearing, others will be happy to buy into the deal frenzy that will begin when this is over." Managing director of Cruise Traveller, Craig Bowen, has seen his bookings plummet 76 per cent for the month of March. Based in Queensland, he's spent three decades in the industry. "I'd be completely naive to say it hasn't had a negative impact on the entire sector; it has," says Bowen. "But we mainly deal with small and expedition ships of 100 to 300 people. Our guests would likely never take a big brand cruise anyway – it's like comparing the traveller who stays in a boutique hotel to the one who likes chains." On the upside, Bowen's bookings for 2021 cruises are tracking up 17 per cent, year on year. Can the cruise industry stage a comeback? Passengers aboard the Artania photographed in mid March. Nine "We've written off 2020, but the pent-up demand leading into 2021 is already kicking in, especially for remote places like Antarctica and the Arctic. "With all the social distancing and fear around crowds, it's as if people are craving wilderness." The survival of the industry is also a matter of vested interest for many port cities and towns, including around Australia. Not only does cruising pump thousands of tourists through our capital cities each year, it's an effective way to ferry people en masse to our regional outposts. The ongoing stoush about who is to blame for allowing Ruby Princess and other ships to speedily disembark around 10,000 passengers in Sydney between March 18 and 20 – leading to the spread of COVID-19 – has done nothing for relations between the cruise industry and the NSW government. But south of Sydney where Ruby Princess is in dock for up to 10 days with 1400 crew, many of them sick, the Wollongong deputy mayor, Tania Brown, knows which side her bread is buttered. Wollongong is one of countless Australian ports that has benefitted from the economic impact of cruising over the years. Adam McLean Not only should the crew of the Ruby Princess be cared for on humanitarian grounds, but Brown adds that Wollongong should welcome them given the financial profits cruising has delivered for years. It's timely to return the favour, and show compassion to the crew of the Ruby Princess, Councillor Brown said. The Australian cruise industry says it delivers $5.2 billion to Australia's bottom line each year, including buying mountains of fresh produce and vast amounts of advertising space in media. Then there are port charges. The Port Authority of NSW charges $40 per passenger for a cruise ship to dock at Sydney's Circular Quay or White Bay. Hence a ship the size of Ruby Princess with 2700 passengers on board delivers the NSW Government $108,000 for docking during one 24-hour slot, and two ships can comfortably dock per day. During the financial year 2011-2012, 199 cruise ships docked in Sydney Harbour, jumping to 323 cruise ships for the 2018-2019 financial year. In short, docking ships can be a financially sound process and at the end of the day, the punters will be free to vote with their sea legs.