Ponant’s long-awaited New Zealand ‘bubble’ cruises are facing an uncertain future after the Kiwi government denied visas to a majority of the crew on board Le Lapérouse.
Having initially been granted permission to sail in New Zealand waters from this month with a maximum of 100 passengers, the ship was forced to turn around 200 nautical miles off the New Zealand coast to head back to New Caledonia after hearing of the decision, according to Stuff.
Immigration NZ (INZ) denied visas to 61 of 90 crew members on the ships, as they were working in “hotel” type roles and were considered non-essential.
Ponant’s Asia Pacific chair, Sarina Bratton, told Stuff the cruise line was trying to hire an extra 20 Kiwis to meet INZ’s requirements, but most of those with maritime experience were working on superyachts for the America’s Cup.
Bratton said the line was still talking with INZ about getting visas for 41 crewmembers; however, if INZ refused to budge, the whole cruise season would be cancelled.
The New Zealand Cruise Association (NZCA) said in a statement it was shocked and bewildered by INZ’s “last-minute” decision.
“NZCA believes that all the ship’s crew are essential to its operation and they cannot be replaced by New Zealanders in such a short time,” it said.
“The Minister of Immigration has tried to paint the decision as the fault of Ponant for not following procedure, but it is not so.
“As soon as the exemption was granted Ponant provided information to Immigration NZ 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 by the New Zealand government in order to offer safe domestic cruising in New Zealand.”
According to NZCA, the ship has been slow steaming from its last port to comply with COVID-19 requirements, 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,” it said.
“Of course, the 700 Kiwi guests who had planned on enjoying a voyage will be most upset too.
“This decision by Immigration NZ tarnishes New Zealand as a cruise friendly destination, undoing years of hard work. It is quite simply not good enough.”
Le Lapérouse was due in Auckland on Saturday for fueling and maintenance work and New Zealand COVID-19 testing, with the first voyage to take place on 8 February.
Travel Weekly understands the ship is now in Noumea in New Caledonia, where it is expected to remain until the immigration issue is resolved.