Police seize Ruby Princess black box as political ties revealed
A private medical company tasked with collecting crucial evidence from the Ruby Princess cruise ship for a NSW police criminal investigation can be revealed as a prolific political donor with ties to the Liberal party.
The revelation raises further questions about the integrity of the police investigation which has been backed by Premier Gladys Berejiklian as she seeks to shift the blame for the fiasco from her own departments.
Some 650 passengers from the ship have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and it has been linked to 15 deaths, including a 62-year-old South Australian woman who died yesterday.
There are also 200 sick crew members on board.
The UK government reached out to its citizens who work on the ship yesterday. In a letter to crew members, UK High Commissioner to Australia Vicki Treadell said she had asked the Australian government to reconsider its refusal to allow the crew to disembark and get on flights home.
Last night, police boarded the ship, which is docked at Port Kembla, as part of their investigation into the spread of coronavirus on-board.
Detectives boarded the Ruby Princess to seize evidence and question crew members about the docking and disembarkation three weeks ago.
Among items seized was the ship's black box, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller confirmed on Thursday.
Aspen Medical was tasked by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to get an "honest picture" of the situation on-board the Ruby Princess while Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the group's staff would provide his detectives with evidence.
The company donated almost $85,000 to both federal and state Liberal party divisions between 2013 and 2015. Federal Labor also received thousands in donations from the company as recently as 2017.
Former Howard government health minister Michael Woodbridge spent 10 years as a director of Aspen Medical over two stints between 2007 and 2019.
The company disputed the total donations, saying the figures published by the AEC had included $30,000 that had been cancelled, but was unable to be removed from the commissions website.
Aspen Medical said it undertakes a "political engagement" policy. The company said it "does not provide cash donations to political parties" but sometimes pays to attend events or fundraisers.
A spokesman dismissed questions of any conflict of interest.
NSW Deputy Labor leader Yasmin Catley said allowing the private company to collect evidence on behalf of police "does not pass the sniff test".
"There is something very unusual about a Premier instructing the police to undertake a criminal investigation and then using a private company with ties to the Liberal Party to collect the evidence,'' she said.
It is understood the company, which has worked on infected cruise ships internationally, was called in to check that crew were isolating and following sanitisation protocols after the passengers were removed.
Meanwhile a Department of Home Affairs spokesman last night confirmed Australian Border Force received a phone call from the NSW port authority expressing concerns over the health of passengers on the stricken vessel hours before it was set to dock at Sydney Harbour on March 19.
"The ABF officer made internal inquiries and subsequently advised the NSW Port Authority that the vessel had been cleared by NSW Health," the spokesman said.
Originally published as Police seize Ruby Princess black box as political ties revealed