New Zealand Cruises Canceled Over Visa Dispute
French cruise operator Ponant canceled its planned cruises from New Zealand. The cruise line had been trying to resolve issues with Immigration New Zealand, which had refused visas for the hotel crew aboard the cruise ship Le Laperouse.
In a statement from the managing director for Ponant’s operations in Asia Pacific Sarina Bratton said, "Ponant regretfully advises that our small expedition ship Le Laperouse has been forced to cancel her season of seven fully booked expedition voyages in New Zealand for New Zealanders.” Ponant said it was sorry that the nearly 700 passengers who had been booked on the seven cruises would be inconvenienced.
Ponant reported it had been in contact with the immigration authorities but was unable to meet the conditions imposed to permit the Le Laperouse to enter New Zealand. The authorities had granted visas for the ship’s 21 officers and technical crew but denied visas for the hotel department staff. It was suggested that Ponant should hire New Zealand residents who had been inside the country’s coronavirus bubble to fill those roles. Ponant said that it had been in touch with local staffing agencies and even explored crew from the yachting sector but could not find sufficient crew with the necessary safety certifications to man the ship.
Over the weekend, Bratton speaking to New Zealand media said that the company had done everything requested by the New Zealand authorities. In December, Ponant was granted an economic exemption to bring the cruise ship to New Zealand and was working with a local company to market the voyages around New Zealand.
Bratton said the company had supplied detailed crew manifests with their nationalities to New Zealand. The crew had been tested for COVID-19 and the vessel was slow steaming to New Zealand to meet the necessary quarantine requirements. The crew was to have been retested on their arrival in Auckland.
The Le Laperouse found herself stranded at sea awaiting word from the authorities. Over the weekend, Bratton told the media the situation was getting more dangerous as a storm was brewing at sea and the vessel was running low on fuel. The Le Laperouse diverted to Noumea to refuel. It was also suggested that if the ship disembarked the 61 crew without visas while in New Caledonia it could proceed to New Zealand.
The New Zealand Cruise Association issued a statement saying it is “devastated” by the news of the cancelation. “This should never have happened and this has, sadly, badly tarnished our country’s previous cruise-friendly reputation,” the association said calling for better coordination within the departments of New Zealand’s government. “The industry has literally been abandoned by our Government.”
Bratton noted that Ponant plans to deploy two cruise ships in New Zealand next year, but it would be difficult for the company to manage the “commercial and operational risks,” without a change of policy by the government.
New Zealand immigration authorities contended that the exemptions only included essential technical staff for the ship. New Zealand has largely been able to eradicate the coronavirus by imposing strict entry controls and maintain its economy with the economic restrictions.