Cruise ship turned away with storm on horizon

Tuesday 2 February 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in New Zealand, Regional

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A cruise ship turned away from New Zealand is now stuck off the coast of New Caledonia, low on fuel with a significant storm approaching and no permission to dock.

THE French cruise ship Le Laperouse has an economic exemption to come to New Zealand for the 2021 cruise season – but was last week refused entry after the Department of Immigration denied 61 of its 90 crew visas because they are not considered “essential workers”.

Le Laperouse was due in Auckland on Saturday for maintenance work with the first voyage beginning February 8.

The government says the ship left Jakarta before its paperwork was processed, but the boat’s owner believes it was given the all clear to come.

Ponant Cruises’ Asia Pacific boss Sarina Bratton said the vessel had travelled 3600 nautical miles to get to New Zealand.

“We are trying to get into Noumea, it’s been a difficult situation – and we’re very low on fuel.

“We’ve spoken to the New Zealand Immigration Department about the lack of available people who have sufficient safety training certification in New Zealand.

“We’ve been in touch with multiple recruitment agencies, shipping service agents, superyachts, trying to identify how many, if any, New Zealanders could be available to work,” she said.

“We’ve been operating in New Zealand seasonally for the last seven years. And our makeup of crew hasn’t changed. It’s been the same as it has for the past seven years. Our application through to the Ministry of Health clearly spoke about the numbers of crew.

“We were not aware of a requirement of having visas approved prior to departing for New Zealand.”

She says the denial has cost the cruise company approximately $1.6 million, and could cost more.

She believes every crew member on the boat is an essential worker.

“Every crew member has certain responsibilities for safety management. So any people who come on, they need to be trained on what their responsibilities are.

“We said to the Department of Immigration that we would try and locate and maybe we could get around 20 New Zealand crew, if we were lucky.

“We’ve put advertisements into the newspaper over the weekend in New Zealand. We’ve spoken to numerous recruitment agencies, and we’re not having a lot of luck.

She says she is concerned about the safety of crew aboard Le Laperouse as it is low on fuel and without a place to dock.

“This morning we were advised that there’s a cyclone starting to head towards New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

“Whenever there’s adverse weather you are able to sail away from it, but we’re in a very low fuel situation. Hopefully it won’t come to that.”

Immigration New Zealand said on Monday it has no further update in relation to Le Laperouse, other than to confirm that it continues to engage with Ponant to discuss their options.