Australia’s Defence Against COVID-19: Implications for the Caledonian Sky cruise ship

April 24, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Legal action has been brought by the tour company APT on behalf of the Caledonian Sky cruise ship, in an attempt to overturn the Australian government’s order for foreign-registered cruise ships to leave Australian waters.

What does this mean?

The contentious issue at the base of APT’s legal action is Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt’s actions under the BioSecurity Act. Whilst Hunt ordered for all foreign-flagged cruise ships to leave Australian waters, APT sought to challenge this order by arguing its invalidity.

During the videolink hearing on 7 April, Judge Stewart stated that the resultant outcome of this case “potentially affects all foreign cruise vessels in Australian territory and not only the particular vessel otherwise directly affected by this case.” 

With many concerns and fears about a bad precedent being set for other ships if Caledonian Sky was permitted to dock in Darwin, this case presented much potential for substantial ramifications for the weight of government orders when challenged within the legal system, as well as the ability for cruise ships to enter Australian waters. 

During the federal court videolink hearing on 15 April, it was revealed that both APT and the Australian government have settled their lawsuit, with the adjournment of this case confirmed on 17 April.

What's the big picture effect?

Following the impact of the Ruby Princess ship accounting for 7.3% of all coronavirus cases among Australians, such hesitancy to allow more foreign-flagged cruise ships into Australian waters is highly justified. As a matter of public health, limiting the spread and containing coronavirus is a central priority among all countries. Nevertheless, in balance with the public health goals set out by the Australian government, Judge Stewart recognised that “as a leading member of the international community of nations…a just and humanitarian resolution for this vessel” should be found. With seafarers still on board and placed in a vulnerable position, he therefore directed the case towards “a just and humanitarian settlement” which balanced the interests of both the government aims to protect against coronavirus, as well as APT’s interests.

Overall, the progression of this case indicates that through virtual communication and hearings, controversial governmental orders can be resolved. In opening up the waters for other cruise ships, the court could have significantly impaired the government’s strategy for protecting against the spread of coronavirus. Fortunately, the settlement demonstrates how a desired outcome for both parties can be achieved through the adjournment of a case, ultimately reflecting the continued interests in preventing the spread of coronavirus in a just manner and in promotion of public health.

Report written by Karolina Smolicz

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