Covid 19 coronavirus: Cruise ship Le Lapérouse refused entry to NZ waters

A luxury expedition cruise ship “hovering” outside New Zealand waters has been held at the border because most of the crew were refused visas.

According to tour operators, Le Lapérouse’s crew were given prior approval by the Ministry of Health to enter New Zealand.

Le Lapérouse is a 264 passenger ship operated by cruise company Ponant.

The ship was granted an economic exemption on December 18 to operate a season of New Zealand-only sailings from February 8, however she is now being held at sea pending further decision on.

But Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi said when Le Laperouse was given permission to travel to New Zealand “that approval was on the condition that Le Laperouse obtained the necessary visas from Immigration New Zealand”.

“I want to make it clear, our border is closed.” he said.

“That was made clear to the ship’s agents at least twice,” Faafoi said.

“I understand that INZ [Immigration New Zealand] 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,” he said.

These staff included hairdressers, bartenders and masseuses.

“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,” he said.

“I want to make it clear, our border is closed,” he said.

Wild Earth Travel director Aaron Russ chartered the ship from operator Ponant. Seven expeditions were planned around New Zealand, with the first due to start in Auckland on February 8.

The travel plans of up to 700 Kiwis have now been thrown into disarray.

The ship has room for 92 passenger cabins.

What next for the ship?

Officials are talking to the ship about options – one of those options is for it to turn around, Faafoi said.

Another is the ship docks, but the 61 staff will be required to leave “immediately”.

Faafoi said the ship kept sailing, despite the visa applications being declined.

He said the firm organizing the cruise had already began marketing the cruise in New Zealand.

Faafoi said he would charitably call that “unwise”. He said he had to be “diplomatic” about his comments about the event – that’s why he won’t go further than “unwise”.

If the ship comes to New Zealand, the people 61 people would either be quarantined on the ship until they are sent home – or they would be “detained”.

Faafoi didn’t elaborate on where they would be detained.

The ship has a French flag, Faafoi said.

If the ship does dock here, the 61 crew members would be sent home at their own expense.
But he said the best outcome would be that the ship would turn around.

“Our border is closed,” he said repeatedly.

Letting the 61workers in would set a very bad precedent.

Tour operators say the ship is currently less than 300 miles away from Auckland, after sailing from Asia.

“All crew members have been isolated for 27 days, have had 4 negative PCR tests and are fully trained in the company’s Covid-safe protocols, safety and emergency operations.”

More to come

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