DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Hundreds of passengers were infected and dozens of people died after a cruise ship set sail at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ruby Princess has made national headlines, and it has a direct link to South Florida.
Over the years, Diane Fish has set sail onboard countless cruise ships, experiencing new adventures all around the world.
"I decided a couple years ago that I want to start living my dream, which is to travel," Fish, a travel agent from Delray Beach, told WPTV.
She's been to the Caribbean, Italy and Norway, just to name a few trips, but the chance to explore down under was near the top of her bucket list.
"I wanted to see a real kangaroo in its environment," Fish said.
Fish spent two years planning the trip to Australia with a group of clients. Her group was able to spend several days in Australia earlier this year before they hopped on board the Ruby Princess for a 14-day cruise around New Zealand.
"This is cruising. We're just enjoying it," Fish said in a video recorded on her cell phone.
Fish's once-in-a-lifetime voyage left the port of Sydney on March 8, just three days before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and countries around the world were on heightened alert.
"I didn't hear about people being sick," Fish recalled. "I mean, we went to happy hour every day and we enjoyed that."
Fish said it felt like a normal cruise, but Vicky Antzoulatos, with Shine Lawyers in Australia, told WPTV that's part of the problem.
"There were clearly passengers within days of that cruise beginning that were displaying symptoms consistent with coronavirus and no one was told anything," Antzoulatos said.
Shine Lawyers said the Ruby Princess has been linked to 28 deaths and about 900 infections of COVID-19.
Now, more than 800 passengers have joined a class-action lawsuit, which was filed in July, against Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines, citing negligence. Antzoulatos, who's part of the legal team representing those passengers, said the cruise line failed to warn everyone on board about the risks of a deadly virus.
"Do you think that cruise should have ever left in the first place?" WPTV asked.
"I don't think the cruise should have left in the first place. That's part of our case," Antzoulatos said.
With nearly 2,700 passengers on board, the Ruby stopped at several ports as tourists explored the towns. Then, as Australia enacted restrictions for the virus, the Ruby turned around for Sydney and cut the journey short.
"That particular cruise was the cause of COVID being spread, not only to different parts of Australia, but the world," Antzoulatos said.
Fish told WPTV all 10 people in her group tested positive, including her and her husband, after making the long trip home.
"We flew out of Sydney through San Francisco and the rest went on to their destination, which was, we went Philadelphia, we went to Fort Lauderdale and up to Orlando," Fish said.
A New South Wales government inquiry said health authorities made "inexcusable" and "serious mistakes" by allowing sick passengers to disembark. The inquiry also states NSW Health should have ensured cruise ships were aware of changes in protocol regarding COVID cases, which essentially took the blame off Princess Cruises.