Boat owners allowed to enter Fiji’s Blue Lanes are urging other countries to adopt a similar initiative amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The initiative was launched in June and saw its first vessel berth at the Port Denarau Marina in Nadi last month.
According to the Fiji government, the plan is to lure mariners and super yachts who want to escape the pandemic in “paradise”. Authorities are optimistic the project will bring in the much-needed revenue to boost the depleted tourism industry.
As of August 18, 36 vessels have been allowed through the lanes with several more moored off the Port Denarau Marina in Nadi waiting to complete their 14-day quarantine at sea.
American Keith Whitaker has welcomed the Fijian initiative and is urging other countries to do the same.
Whitaker and his family of six arrived in Fiji last month to escape the New Zealand winter onboard their yacht, Zatara.
Speaking to RNZ Pacific from Port Denarau, the Texas native said the Blue Lanes are a great way to lure yachties who wish to escape the pandemic.
“The Fijians are so thankful we are showing up in the islands,” he said. “Everyone has been helpful and we also commend the efforts of the Fiji Navy who have been helping yachties with food and other supplies.”
Robyn Cooper from California and her family were the first visitors through the Blue Lanes.
“Fiji has done a great job finding a way to open their borders to the yachties, which I think is good,” she said.
“And the Ministry of Health has done an excellent job in making sure that we are in good health and also the local Fijians have a very low risk to us.”
Boaties in Fiji’s Blue Lanes ponder next move as cyclone season looms.
Port Denarau’s chief executive, Cynthia Rasch, said the number of super yachts coming though the lanes has been encouraging as they spend an average of about US$120,000 during their stay.
She said the super yachts spend between 60 and 80 days in Fiji while the smaller vessels stay between 120 and 160 days, and are each pumping about US$35,000 into the Fiji economy.
The escape to paradise is expected to last a couple more months for the yachties as the cyclone season in the Pacific begins in November.
Whitaker and Cooper have joined hundreds of boaties stranded in the region to call on New Zealand to allow safe refuge there from the dangerous cyclone season.
Guy Chester, of the Ocean Cruising Club, earlier told RNZ he had been appealing to the New Zealand government since April to create a border entry exemption process for those on small yachts in the Pacific to come to New Zealand before the cyclone season starts.
He said their members don’t own rich super yachts – the vessels range from seven to 20 metres long and they aren’t capable of riding out a cyclone at sea.
He’s registered about 200 crews desperate to come to New Zealand – about 1000 people – but thinks there’s at least another 100 crews on top of that.
Whitaker said with New Zealand hosting the America’s Cup next year, a similar scheme to Fiji’s Blue Lanes could be considered by the government.
“The bureaucracy in the governmental control is unyielding during this pandemic.”
New Zealand’s Health Ministry is responsible for the process, and says it’s developing guidelines for the humanitarian and other compelling needs exemption category.
Currently, any foreign vessel must apply to the Director-General of Health for approval to come to New Zealand.