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Cruise Ship Rule Changes

The Ponant Cruises ship, Le Laperouse, has been denied entry into New Zealand waters by Immigration New Zealand as they felt that 61 of the crew positions on this ship were “non-essential” jobs that could have been filled by New Zealanders.

Ponant Cruises had been granted approval by the Health Ministry.

"The Ministry of Health issued an approval in mid-December. The approval's conditions were to operate with a limit of 100 guests, within NZ waters, for Kiwis only.

"Le Lapérouse and her full complement of 90 crew were mobilised under strict COVID-19 isolation and multiple testing protocols and sailed from her anchorage off Jakarta on January 10 for New Zealand. This plan enabled the vessel to enter safely and place no pressure on the in-demand MIQ beds in Aotearoa."

Health officials were scheduled to test all crew upon arrival on January 30.

But at the last minute Immigration New Zealand refused to issue visas for all of the crew based on their decision that the 61 positions were non-essential and should be filled by New Zealanders.

Immigration New Zealand's boss of visa services Peter Elms laid down the law in refusing entry to Le Laperouse.

Elms sent an email to the ship's owners Ponant Cruises warning them not to enter NZ as the consequences could include: the jailing of the captain and senior crew, the seizure of the ship and the imprisonment of those aiding its entry.

As a result of this decision Ponant Cruises which had intended to carry out seven fully booked 2021 cruises around Aotearoa has confirmed it has cancelled all of its expeditions and will not come to New Zealand at all.

The company behind the cruise ship (Ponant Cruises) advised that their small expedition ship Le Lapérouse has been forced to cancel her season of seven fully booked expedition voyages in New Zealand for New Zealanders".

Le Lapérouse was given permission by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield to travel to New Zealand - on the condition that Le Lapérouse obtained the necessary visas from Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

INZ declined to approve visas for 61 of the ship's 90 crew. Visas were issued for 29 technical crew however INZ were not prepared to issue visas to the 61 hotel staff.

Ponant said the company was advised on January 27, after travelling more than 3600 nautical miles that visa applications for the hotel department officers and crew were not considered critical to the ship's entry to NZ and the applications were declined.

Ponant says the cost of Immigration NZ's decision is huge:

  • It will disrupt the travel plans of more than 650 New Zealanders
  • Cause up to $6 million in direct economic loss to food, beverage, ground operator SMEs across the country supplying the vessel
  • Eliminate more income from the New Zealand travel agency community
  • Devastate the 16 Kiwis contracted to work on-board for two months, who will now lose their income.

The company says the decision puts into question the prospects of a successful return to New Zealand's cruise industry, which was worth hundreds of millions to the local economy.

"Ponant has invested millions of dollars promoting New Zealand internationally, and operating in NZ seasonally for the past seven years. We hope there is a quick review of the processes for expedition ships to operate in New Zealand and that the 2021-2022 season can be saved," the company says.

The Minister of Immigration Hon Kris Faafoi reiterated his message that businesses must ensure they comply with all the necessary New Zealand border entry requirements before they make commitments to ventures and customers.

"The Government expects that, and New Zealanders do too," Faafoi said.

Given that there is no Health reasons for this decision as evidenced by the clearance from the Ministry of Health then I believe that it should have been very simple to process visitor visas for the crew of this vessel as gas been done many times in the past for other cruise ships, so I can only assume that the reasons are a change to the rules.

My Questions for the government then, are as follows:

  1. Has there been a change in the rules around crewing of cruise ships in NZ waters to require them to have all non-essential crew member positions filled by NZ personnel?
  2. If there has been a change to the rules is this change permanent?
  3. Given that there would have been twenty nine (essential) crew members staying on board to operate the ship and the ship had been given clearance from the Ministry of Health in relation to Covid, what was the reason for demanding that the other sixty one crew members be NZ personnel?

It is my opinion that this decision if it is to be permanent, has the potential to prevent any and all cruise lines from sending ships to cruise in NZ waters due to the difficulties in sourcing and maintaining NZ crew for the periods that they would be working in NZ waters.

If this decision is based on a perceived health risk around Covid then it is in fact a nonsensical one as there is still going to be twenty nine crew on the ship that have been there from the beginning of the trip from Jakarta in early January and they have all been interacting with the other sixty one non-essential crew on that journey so in a strictly health risk scenario then it should be all crew or none on that basis.

For a government that has made all sorts of noise about trying to kick-start the economy after the effects of Covid this decision (that some of the crew were OK and others not) is to say the least puzzling.

The decision by Ponant Cruises to cancel the complete cruising schedule due to this decision is in my opinion, a classic case of commercial reality being over-ridden by pedantic bureaucracy at the expense of our economy.

The commercial reality of this decision to not grant visas based on the fact that they do not consider the crew positions to be essential and therefore should be filled by NZ’s, is that this will prevent any cruise lines from cruising in NZ waters and once our borders are re-opened in future more NZ citizens will travel offshore and spend their travel budget in other countries.

© Scoop Media

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