Ponant has been forced to cancel its New Zealand ‘bubble expedition’ season, disrupting the travel plans of more than 650 Kiwis.
Having initially been granted permission to sail in New Zealand waters from this month with a maximum of 100 passengers, Le Lapérouse was forced to turn around 200 nautical miles off the New Zealand coast to head back to New Caledonia after hearing of the decision.
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.
Earlier this week, 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 crew members; however, if INZ refused to budge, the whole cruise season would be cancelled.
“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 an approval in mid-December,” Ponant said in a statement.
“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 January 10 for New Zealand. Health officials were scheduled to test all crew upon arrival on 30 January.”
The line was forced to cancel all seven of Le Lapérouse’s fully booked sailings, disrupting the travel plans of more than 650 New Zealanders and causing an estimated $6 million in economic loss to food, beverage, ground operator SMEs across the country.
“After travelling more than 3600 nautical miles, the company was advised on 27 January 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,” the line said.
“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.
“The ship was instructed by INZ to turnaround and go elsewhere. Low on fuel, the only safe option was to apply for entry to New Caledonia, which was granted allowing the ship to arrive yesterday.”