New Zealand’s leading cruise authority, the New Zealand Cruise Association, has expressed dismay at the country’s decision to refuse entry of Ponant’s 5-star luxury yacht, Le Laperouse, at the 11th hour.
The ship and its crew of 90 had been sitting in international waters off the coast on New Zealand on Friday morning, preparing for entry, when Immigration New Zealand denied access for 61 of the vessel’s hotel department, whose visas were deemed “non-essential”.
Le Laperouse was scheduled to operate a series of charters in Kiwi waters and to the sub-Antarctic for Wild Earth Travel, commencing on 8 February, 2021. In December, Ponant had been given a green light from the Ministry of Health to operate domestically in New Zealand, carrying up to a maximum of 100 passengers.
Some 700 Kiwi travellers had already booked on the seven sailings.
On Friday, the NZCA blasted Immigration NZ, saying it was “shocked and quite simply bewildered to the see last-minute” decision to block the vessel’s entry.
“It is a case of one Ministry giving and another taking away,” Kevin O’Sullivan, CEO of the NZCA said.
“Government [departments] must begin to talk to each other, not take separate action which once again greatly harms the tourism industry.”
“The Minister of Immigration has tried to paint the decision as the fault of Ponant for not following the procedure, but it is not so.
“As soon as the exemption was granted Ponant provided information to Immigration on visa requirements for the ship’s crew, giving ample time for a response and following up with an application when they had assembled the information requested more than three weeks ago.
“They did everything that was requested from NZ Government in order to offer safe domestic cruising in New Zealand,” O’Sullivan said.
“To comply with COVID requirements to isolate crew, the ship has been slow steaming from its last port, testing everyone on board regularly.”
“This is a significant and devastating blow to the New Zealand tourism industry and to all those businesses that were relying on this one cruise ship to bring them some small glimmer of hope in the resurgence of regional cruise tourism.”
“This decision by Immigration tarnishes New Zealand as a cruise-friendly destination, undoing years of hard work. It is quite simply not good enough,” O’Sullivan said.
Le Laperouse is currently off the coast of Noumea, having sailed 3,600 nautical miles north of New Zealand over the weekend. The crew are awaiting further instructions.
Te ship docked at the New Caledonian port to refuel on Tuesday after receiving approval on Monday night.
Ponant’s Asia Pacific head Sarina Bratton, said: “We have been in regular contact with the Department of Immigration over the weekend and yesterday, updating them on our efforts to find non-safety critical workers.
“Communications from the Immigration Department today will determine what next steps, if any, are available to salvage our planned and approved operation in NZ this season,” Bratton said.
“We’ve spoken to the Immigration Department about the lack of available people who have sufficient safety training certification in New Zealand.”
“We’ve been in touch with multiple recruitment agencies, shipping service agents, superyachts, trying to identify how many, if any, New Zealanders could be available to work,” she said.
New Zealand’s Maritime Union has suggested that Air New Zealand’s redundant crew could possibly have filled the jobs on Le Laperouse.
Hear Bratton’s discussion on the situation with Radio New Zealand: Checkpoint, here.