(12:54 p.m. AEST ) -- Sture Myrmell, president of Carnival Australia, has called on governments to show compassion for passengers and crew stuck for weeks on cruise ships that continue to be denied permission to dock. In particular, he is concerned about the number of ships in limbo off the NSW coast, including Sydney-based Pacific Explorer and Ruby Princess, which have been ordered to leave local waters.
In a video posted to the company's YouTube channel, Myrmell said it had been "distressing" to see Ruby Princess criticised by state and federal governments and NSW Police.
Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess has been cited as a major source of COVID-19 infections across Australia, linked to more than 400 cases and four deaths, after 2,650 passengers were cleared by authorities to disembark in Sydney on March 19, before confirming the test results of 13 passengers with suspected coronavirus symptoms.
"Every single passenger on the affected cruise and every joining crew member embarked the ship in Sydney. The overwhelming majority of passengers, in fact two-thirds, who embarked that ship were Australians," Myrmell said. "The ship followed to the letter all of the formal health clearance processes that were active at that time -- meaning that all travellers arriving from an overseas port were treated in exactly the same way whether they arrived by air or sea."
Myrmell said Ruby Princess had been "demonised" and wrongly accused of making no contribution to Australia's economic wellbeing.
"We are part of an industry that contributes more than $5 billion to the national economy and supports nearly 20,000 jobs and buys huge quantities of produce from local suppliers, and there are thousands of travel agents who have made cruising part of their businesses as well. There are also tens of millions of dollars in non-recoverable taxes," he said.
Carnival Australia, which represents seven cruise lines including P&O and Princess, has spent several weeks recalling its Australia-based ships so that all guests and crew could return home. However, with entry denied to dock at local ports, thousands of crewmembers, some of whom are ill, remain onboard the vessels.
"As a maritime nation, we have obligations to look after people in our care in this country," Myrmell said. "There is a duty to care for foreign nationals in the same way as we would expect others to care for Australians in difficult circumstances overseas."
Meanwhile, P&O's Sydney-based Pacific Explorer, which has no reported illness onboard, has also been ordered by NSW Police to leave local waters. In a second video, Myrmell expressed his shock and disappointment about the unprecedented action against P&O -- the only cruise line with a head office in Australia.
Acknowledging the pressure on governments to slow the spread of coronavirus, he said there is still time to adopt a humanitarian approach: "Compassion and clear thinking beyond the current crisis has never been needed more."
Myrmell's speeches follow a similar plea by Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford imploring a Florida port to allow its returning ships, Zaandam and Rotterdam, to dock and disembark passengers.
Australians are among the thousands of travellers still onboard cruise ships which have been turned away by the many closed ports around the world.