Ponant withdraws New Zealand luxury cruise program

On tenterhooks for several days, luxury cruise line forced to abandon Kiwi-only schedule

© PONANT/Olivier Anrigo

Luxury cruise line Ponant has terminated its imminent New Zealand cruise program following Immigration New Zealand’s decision to deny entry to the bulk of it’s Le Lapérouse crew late last week.

Le Lapérouse was scheduled to operate a series of charters for New Zealand travel company, Wild Earth Travel, commencing Monday, 8 February 2021.

The last-minute program cancellation will result in an estimated economic loss to New Zealand of up to $6 million and hit the struggling Kiwi travel agency community hard.

The NZ Ministry of Health gave Ponant a green light to operate the vessel in mid-December. Wild Earth Travel had been actively selling the program – exclusive to a capped number of 100 Kiwis only – since that time.

The seven voyages – which had been fully booked – have been on tenterhooks since Friday when Immigration New Zealand (INZ) denied entry for the ship. It deemed 61 of the 90 crew onboard “non-essential” workers.

Le Lapérouse at sea

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Visas had been issued for 29 technical crew, however Immigration New Zealand (INZ) was unprepared to issue visas to the hotel staff on Le Lapérouse.

In a statement, Ponant said: “Following a detailed application submitted in October, including the numbers, and nationality makeup of the crew to arrive on the ship, the Ministry of Health issued 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 isolation and multiple testing protocols and sailed from her anchorage off Jakarta on 10 January for New Zealand. Health officials were scheduled to test all crew upon arrival on 30 January. ”

On 27 January, having travelled over 3,600 nautical miles, Ponant was advised its hotel department officers and crew were not considered “critical to the ship’s entry to NZ and the applications were declined”.

“The company was advised that the ship must not enter the 200 mile NZ Exclusive Economic Zone otherwise face arrest with imprisonment penalties for the ship’s Officers and Company Management,” Ponant said.

Low on fuel, Le Lapérouse turned around and headed to Noumea, New Caledonia.

Le Laperouse is currently sitting off the coast of La Foa, New Caledonia, awaiting further instructions | credit: CruiseMapper

Impact of program cancellation

The forced termination of the New Zealand program has disrupted the travel plans of more than 650 New Zealanders. It will also cause a direct economic impact of up to $6m (food, beverages, ground operations across the country), eliminate income for the country’s travel agency community, and leave 16 Kiwis contracted to work onboard the ship for two months without income.

“Worryingly this decision by INZ places great uncertainty about the future for not only the high-yielding Expedition Cruise sector but to the $670 million economic benefit the Cruise Industry generates for the country,” Ponant said.

“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 French cruise line said in a statment.

Le Lapérouse will be staying in New Caledonia for the time being, a spokesperson for Ponant told LATTE.

Lead image: File photo of Le Lapérouse, Rashdoo Atoll. Maldives © Ponant/OlivierAnrigo

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