There were cheers, waves, thankyous, happy dances and even a short haka as the first contingent of Ruby Princess workers left the troubled ship which had become their prison for the past month
About 60 Ruby Princess crew members were finally allowed to begin their journey home on Tuesday, with people from the US, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Italy and Austrian leaving on buses, under police escort, throughout the day.
In an interview shared by NSW Police, who tightly controlled the operation, one Irish woman shared her elation and relief at leaving the ship.
"Oh my god, I never thought the day would come - I've been in the cabin for about a month now, as has everyone else," she said.
"It just feels so surreal, slightly overwhelming. The days have been counting to the this day, I'm absolutely delighted to be honest."
As he was directed to the buses which took most of the workers to the airport to allow them to travel home, one New Zealand man simply announced "today, I do the haka" after he performed part of the exuberant Maori war dance as he stepped onto solid ground.
Those left on board stood on their balconies to clap and cheer as their colleagues left.
Buses arrived at Port Kembla in the morning to begin the repatriation, which was be a multi-agency operation led by the NSW Police Force.
Police said all but one of the first 49 to leave had tested negative for COVID-19, and would be transported to Sydney Airport to fly back to their country of origin, police said.
One person, who has tested positive for COVID-19, will be taken to a NSW Health-managed hotel to begin another 14-day quarantine period.
Once the 14-day quarantine period is exhausted, subject to a medical clearance by NSW Health, the crew member will be transported to Sydney Airport to fly back to their country of origin.
Police said more crew members will be disembarked from the Ruby Princess in the coming days, with details of those operations to be provided "in due course".
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, who has been vocal about the need to test all crew and return them safely home, said he has been told by authorities that at least 10 more crew members, from Italy and Austria, were disembarking on Tuesday afternoon.
One of those crew members had tested positive to COVID-19 and would be taken into medical care, Mr Rorris said.
"We also believe around 550 Filipino origin crew will come off by Thursday, before the ship sails, and over 350 of those will fly out on Thursday," he said.
Mr Rorris also said unions had been told more than 30 crew on board were "symptomatic and requiring a high level of medical care," and that there were more crew who wanted to disembark before the ship sets sail/
In a statement on Tuesday, police said "a significant number" of crew members will remain on the Ruby Princess and return with the ship to its port of origin.
According to NSW Health figures, more than 200 of the thousand-plus crew members on the ship have tested positive to COVID-19, with 19 new cases discovered on Monday.
NSW Health began a testing program for all crew members last Thursday, with some receiving a test for the virus, and others - who were thought to have had the disease receiving an antibody test.
On Tuesday, NSW Police Force Commissioner Mick Fuller praised the co-ordinated effort to keep those on and off the ship safe.
"[Tuesday's] operation is the culmination of a significant joint effort by a number of agencies, and that effort will continue until we have ensured the safety and movement of every crew member, in line with their wishes," Commissioner Fuller said.
"The health of those on board and protecting the people of NSW always has been - and will continue to be - our number one priority.
"The movement of the first crew contingent [on Tuesday] is an important milestone, and has us one step closer to the Ruby Princess leaving Australian waters."