The positive test in Cairns sparked efforts from police and Queensland Health to determine where the luxury vessel had been and how the case may have been contracted, along with fears for the potential impact on the northern tourism hub.
Health Minister Yvette D’Ath criticised the 14 guests and six crew on board, saying they had “not been very co-operative at all”.
“We will leave that for the police to deal with, but we have very disappointed they are not co-operating and providing factual and correct information to the Queensland Police Service,” she said.
Two Cairns Marina tourism operators said superyachts were regularly moored there and go largely unnoticed. Eyebrows were raised when the Lady E was eventually “roped off”.
The vessel had been sold to a client of broker Burgess Yachts in 2018 and relocated to the Asia region, but sails under a Cayman Islands flag. It then underwent an almost year-long refit in the United Kingdom ahead of its return to the seas in September.
A six-metre extension of its length helped make way for a wellness centre, heated pool and beauty salon throughout its “acres of luxurious deck space” across four levels, according to an online advertisement from Burgess Yachts, which own and manage the charter vessel.
Charters were advertised in Australia from the end of January, and New Zealand in February and March in time for the America’s Cup. Weekly hire cost start at an estimated $783,000.
After the refit, the vessel made its way to the Maldives capital of Male via port stops in Gibraltar and Egypt, arriving on November 6 for a month-long stay, marine traffic data shows. A total of 779 new cases have been reported in the Indian Ocean republic across the last month, according to John Hopkins University data.
The statement issued on behalf of the vessel said one crew member who flew from the United Kingdom to meet the yacht in Male had returned a negative test before departing, as per the vessel protocol, before testing positive after arrival.
“Some” other crew members also tested positive after a subsequent round of testing, with all then going into onshore quarantine for 14 days. They returned negative tests on December 5 before departing for Australia.
The Lady E arrived in Cairns on Sunday and had made no other stops. The statement said those one board were “efficiently and professionally” processed by authorities including the Cairns Harbour Master, Australian Border Force, Queensland police and state contact tracers.
Testing was now being carried out to determine if positive test results returned by two crew members since were false positives from their previously recovered cases. The ABF has been contacted for comment.
Chief health officer Jeannette Young told reporters on Thursday that 14 of those on board went straight into hotel quarantine, with six crew members remaining on board to maintain and secure it. The crew member in her 20s was transported to the Cairns Hospital.
Lady E is not the first yacht to cause COVID concerns in Queensland. The luxury yacht Lady Pamela made a voyage from Melbourne to Coomera on the Gold Coast from August 9 to August 24.
Passengers on board included millionaire construction magnate Mark Simonds and family members, along with Hannah Fox, the eldest daughter of Linfox executive chairman Peter Fox.
Skipper Greg Numa, 64, pleaded guilty in a Queensland court in September to breaching the Public Health Act by providing false information to an emergency officer and was fined $4500.
With Toby Crockford and Lucy Stone
Matt Dennien is a reporter with Brisbane Times.