The 1200 crew on board Ruby are a family. They live together for months on end, they celebrate together during the good times and they support each other through tough times, like families do.
The ship is their home, they are immensely proud of it, and they have hurt incredibly that their ship has been involved in this tragedy.
It most certainly was not their fault.
When Kiama resident Nicole Dillon put out the call for local residents to support the crew during their time of need, she was overwhelmed with the response. The Illawarra welcomed the ship and her crew with open arms and gifts of friendship.
The significance of the welcome was not lost on the crew who began a nightly ritual of meeting on their balconies at 8 pm to clap the Illawarra community for their support. Videos of this sent a shiver down your spine, if not a tear to your eye.
They began a GoFundMe page to give something back to the Illawarra homeless. Princess Cruises made a $50,000 donation to the Mission to Seafarers in Port Kembla who support seafarers from all over the world, every day of the week.
As we say goodbye to the Ruby Princess, we also say goodbye to 1200 new friends of the Illawarra. We wish them safe passage to their next port of call and we look forward to welcoming them back in far happier times when they can enjoy everything our wonderful region has to offer.
It was fitting that the Ruby Princess sailed away under a ceremonial water cannon salute, a maritime symbol of respect, honour and gratitude. It would have been significant to the crew and they deserved it.
It's an amazing place we live in. Stunning natural landscapes which could be anywhere in the world. What sets us apart though are our people. It's a proud day for the Illawarra. Our genuine outpouring of friendship is being felt all around the world.
Mark Sleigh is the general manager of Destination Wollongong.
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