A cruise ship that was denied entry to New Zealand and left in limbo 300 miles out to sea because it wasn’t staffed with New Zealand crew has turned its sights to another port.
After New Zealand immigration officials denied border exemptions to more than 60 of the hotel and hospitality staff aboard the Le Lapérouse, the French cruise ship has set sail for Noumea.
While those crew deemed to be essential to the voyage were granted entry, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment staff told the ship’s owners to dump the hospitality crew in New Caledonia, before proceeding onto New Zealand.
So now, the ship is heading to the Pacific island where it will dock while the cruise’s operating company makes a decision on the way forward.
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In a statement to Stuff, Sarina Bratton, chairman for the company, PONANT Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, said they had informed Immigration New Zealand they would try to identify some New Zealand citizens to fill the roles of those who were denied entry.
They have already contracted 14 New Zealand residents for roles onboard the ship.
The situation came to a head when the ship’s operators kicked up a fuss about not being allowed into New Zealand after they said health officials had granted permission in December.
But on Friday the Government hit back, saying the cruise ship operators only asked for exemptions two days before leaving Indonesia in early January.
And officials claim Immigration NZ told the company on January 12 the crew could not enter without the appropriate visas “and that this may take longer than usual due to the large number of crew requesting border exceptions”.
“When the cruise ship, Le Laperouse, was given permission by the Director General of Health, under a Maritime Border Order, to travel to New Zealand that approval was on the condition that Le Laperouse obtained the necessary visas from Immigration New Zealand (INZ). That was made clear to the ship’s agents at least twice,” Immigration Minister Kris Fafoi said in a written statement.
“I understand that INZ received a request for border exceptions for 90 foreign crew members on board the vessel 48 hours before it began its journey to New Zealand.
“INZ granted visas to 29 of the crew who were considered essential for the operation of the ship to travel to New Zealand for the purpose of delivering it to a business and for refit or refurbishment.
“Immigration declined visas for the other 61 crew who were not considered essential for the purpose of the ship’s travel here. The ship should have waited for decisions on visas to be completed to ensure those on board complied with New Zealand immigration requirements when the ship entered our border.”
Bratton said the cruise would provide a boon for the New Zealand’s flagging tourism industry if the ship was to be allowed into the country.
The economic contribution to the economy is significant and there are many small businesses relying on this to be realised, to reduce job losses and provide hope for the future, she said.
Aaron Russ, director of Christchurch-based Wild Earth Travel, chartered the ship from French cruise ship operator Ponant and was planning seven expeditions around New Zealand, with the first beginning in Auckland on February 8.
Critical worker visas for the ship’s 29 bridge officers and engineers were approved. But Immigration NZ says the hospitality crew – who do everything from serving food to cleaning rooms and guide tours – must come from New Zealand.
Russ says to recruit and train a new crew of hotel staff in a week is impossible, and he questioned officials’ assertion that the hospitality crew don’t require maritime qualifications.
He estimated the decision will cost his company $1.5m, with another $6m in tourism dollars lost to the economy.
“The reality is that all ships crew need to hold maritime qualifications and also be trained for the ship that they are sailing aboard.
“Additionally, Ponant have been given no opportunity to rectify matters as the ship is due to arrive in Auckland on Saturday and have the first Kiwi guests aboard on 8th Feb.
“The reality is that in trying to create hospitality jobs for Kiwis, this decision is going to impact far more who work as travel agents, tour guides, ship repairers, and provide provisions.”
Cruising has been at a virtual standstill for almost a year, with coronavirus hitting the industry particularly hard.
Bratton said the cruise company had operated 60 expeditions around the world during the pandemic, and they had developed extensive protocols.